We are tired, so we must take turns to rest: Women's advocacy during crisis

womens rights are human rights

Source: Wikicommons

By Masana Ndinga-Kanga, the Crisis Response Fund Lead and Advocacy Officer for the Middle East/North Africa region at CIVICUS

In recognising how moments of crisis heighten already existing inequalities, it is worth reflecting on how women activists have been able to conduct advocacy during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this time, as advocacy meetings have predominantly moved online within the context of a gendered digital divide, the consequences for women activists and their ability to work are yet to be fully understood.

Read on Advocacy Accelerator


CIVICUS calls on social media platforms, govt to address 'hostile virtual environment for women'

Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Reseacher at CIVICUS spoke to JacarandaFM about the challenges faced by women human rights defenders, activists, feminists and journalists when online.

This comes on the back of a collection of essays from women across the world that detailed their experiences of online harassment. The common thread in the essays show that women journalists, feminists, activists, and human rights defenders around the world are facing virtual harassment more than their male counterparts.  

Read/Listen on JacarandaFM




Harassment goes virtual: Women activists and journalists speak out

Harassment goes virtual series


Women journalists, feminists, activists, and human rights defenders around the world are facing virtual harassment. In this series, global civil society alliance CIVICUS highlights the gendered nature of virtual harassment through the stories of women working to defend our democratic freedoms. These testimonies are originally published on Global Voices through a partnership between CIVICUS and Global Voices.


Inday Espina VaronaFor this Filipina journalist, every day is a battle with fear

There has been a relentless crackdown against independent media and journalists. Threats and attacks against journalists, as well as the deployment of armies of trolls and online bots, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic, have contributed to self-censorship—this has had a chilling effect within the media industry and among the wider public. In this first part of the series, Filipina journalist Inday Espina-Varona tells her story.

Evgenija CarlCalled a prostitute by the prime minister, a Slovenian journalist tells her story (Ler em portugues)

Evgenija Carl is an investigative journalist from Slovenia. After she produced a television report about the opposition SDS party in 2016, a leading politician at the time, Janez Janša, called her a “prostitute” on Twitter. When Janša later became Slovenian prime minister, the online abuse intensified. Read Evgenija Carl's story here.



Maya El AmmarOnline rape threats connect Lebanese activist to ‘thousands of other women’ facing abuse (باللغة العربية)

Since October 2019, anti-government protests known as the “October Revolution” have erupted across Lebanon. Protesters have called for the removal of the government and raised concerns about corruption, poor public services, and a lack of trust in the ruling class. Protests have been met with unprecedented violence from security forces. Feminists have been at the forefront of the revolution and have stepped up to provide assistance in the aftermath of the explosion. In the third part of this series, Maya El Ammar, a Lebanese feminist writer, activist and communications professional, tells her story and the online abuse she continues to face. 


Chantal MutamurizaPersonal attacks follow Burundi human rights defender into exile in Uganda (Lire en français)

Under the regime of President Évariste Ndayishimiye, journalists and rights defenders continue to face challenges. The arrest of political activists and the recent public announcement of the sentencing of 34 exiled people—including journalists and human rights defenders—to life imprisonment illustrate the obstacles to free expression in the country. Chantal Mutamuriza, a feminist, human rights defender, and founder of the Light For All NGO, tells us her story of the continuous online harassment she faces day in and day out.


Weaam YoussefIntimidation, censorship, and defamation in the virtual sphere

In Syria, hundreds of thousands of people have died since 2011. Numerous human rights violations have taken place during the Syrian crisis - arbitrary detentions, torture, assassination of journalists, and the violent repression of protests, make Syria one of the most volatile countries in the Middle East and North Africa. Originally from Syria, Weaam Youssef is Programme Manager for Women Human Rights Defenders for the Gulf Region and Neighboring Countries. This is the story of Weaam.


Lindsey Kukunda GV 768x786Herself a victim of cyberbullying, Lindsey Kukunda fights online violence against women in Uganda

More than half of Ugandan women experience physical violence, while one in five is subjected to sexual violence; many also face psychological abuse, forced and early marriage, and female genital mutilation. In 2014, Uganda introduced a law against pornography that has been used to target and prosecute women, especially women whose nude photos have been shared online without their consent. Lindsey Kukunda is a feminist, writer, and human rights defender. She is also the managing director of Her Empire, a feminist organization that runs two programmes: Not Your Body and The Mentor’s Network. Lindsey tells us her story



Is the USA fit to rejoin the UN Human Rights Council?

A month into Joe Biden’s presidency, the U.S. has rejoined nearly all the multilateral institutions and international commitments that it withdrew from under Trump. These include the World Health Organization and the Paris Climate Accords. Most recently, on February 8th, the U.S. announced it would also rejoin the United Nations Human Rights Council (HRC) as an observer. The U.S.’ role in the human rights forum looks different than it did four years ago in light of its recent track record on civil liberties.

Read on Inter Press News Service


The advocate championing citizen action and organizing to enable change

Champions of Change is an initiative started by the Pathfinders to highlight advocates who have made an impact in their communities and have helped to create peaceful, just and inclusive societies (SDG16+). It provides an opportunity to feature individuals, businesses, and organisations doing extraordinary things to empower and inspire members of their communities. Pathfinders spoke with Lysa John to learn more about her work and what drives her. 

Read on Medium



Angola decriminalises homosexuality

Angola has officially decriminalised same-sex relationships and prohibited discrimination based on sexual orientation. LGBTQI+ advocacy lead for CIVICUS, Mawethu Nkosana spoke with eNCA's Sally Burdett on Angola's repeal of Anti-gay law.


Saudi activist, Loujain Al-Hathloul spends 1000+ days in prison: Masana Ndinga-Kanga

Prominent Saudi female activist, Loujain al-Hathloul, who campaigned for women's right to drive, was sentenced to more than five years in prison in December 2020, after having already spent two years in detention. She is probably one of Saudi Arabia's most famous human rights defenders. She and other activists were detained in 2018 on charges including contacts with organisations hostile to Saudi Arabia. She was eventually convicted of various charges, including trying to harm national security and advance a foreign agenda. As she spends her 1000th day in prison activists from around the world are campaigning for her unconditional release. Masana Ndinga-Kanga the Middle East and North Africa Advocacy Lead at the global alliance of civil society organisations, CIVICUS, told SABC News that al-Hathloul's case is symbolic of the repression and silencing that women in Saudi Arabia face when they dare to speak out for their human rights.


Abortion Law | Mass protests across Poland

Protests against new abortion laws have erupted across Poland. eNCA speaks to Aarti Narsee, a researcher at civil-society alliance CIVICUS.


Europeans’ right to protest under threat

By Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher for Europe and Central Asia at CIVICUS

The year 2020 tested democracy and civic freedoms in many ways. After the World Health Organization declared the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic in March, governments took unprecedented actions, such as imposing curfews, restricting people’s movements, and limiting or banning gatherings. According to international law, some of these measures went beyond the permissible bounds for limiting rights during public health emergencies, bounds meant to ensure that such measures are kept “proportionate, necessary, and nondiscriminatory.”

Read on Carnegie Europe


Shaping post-pandemic politics

The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted politics and power for years to come, pushing the boundaries of political systems, impacting or delaying election outcomes and fuelling popular movements.



Another Republic Day, another mass protest and another year of repression?

By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

It’s an anathema that in the 21st century when humanity claims to have made great progress in cultural and technological spheres that we should still have prisoners of conscience. The right to a fair trial and due process under the law are part of customary international law. Yet, around the world, thousands of rights defenders are wrongfully imprisoned following flawed trials for their peaceful efforts to create just, equal and sustainable societies.

Read on The Wire


Imprisoned Saudi activist and other rights defenders seek justice in 2021

By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

Two events generated significant interest and global solidarity in the final days of December 2020. A court in Saudi Arabia handed down a five years and eight months sentence to activist Loujain Al-Hathloul for publicly supporting women’s right to drive. Nicholas Opiyo, Ugandan human rights lawyer and defender of persecuted members of the LGBTQI community and political opponents of the president was arbitrarily detained on trumped up charges of ‘money laundering.’ Nicholas Opiyo was granted bail on 30 December following an outpouring of global support for his activism for justice. In handing out the verdict to Loujain Al-Hathloul, the court partly suspended her sentence raising hope that she might be released from prison in a couple of months due to time already served.

Read on Inter Press Service News


How to create a UN that listens

By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS & Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

The UN was conceived as a ground-breaking experiment in global cooperation and people-centred multilateralism. Born out of the ashes of the Second World War, its Charter outlines four lofty aspirations in the name of ‘We the Peoples’. These are to save succeeding generations from the scourge of war; reaffirm faith in fundamental human rights, dignity and equality; establish conditions for justice under international law; and promote social progress and better standards of living. As the UN marks 75 years of its existence this year, has it achieved these objectives? To answer this question, our colleagues at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, asked thought-leaders and activists to reflect on the UN’s achievements, challenges and prospects for change.

Read on United Nations Association UK


What is the Health of SDG Targets on Civic Freedoms after 2020?

By Emily Standfield, Data Volunteer with CIVICUS & Matthew Reading-Smith, Communications Coordinator at CIVICUS

The events of 2020 accelerated the decline of civic freedoms. The combination of restrictive legislation under COVID-19 and the continued rise of authoritarian governments contributed to a growth in unwarranted restrictions on free speech, the right to peacefully protest, and other fundamental rights protected in international law. A global report by the CIVICUS Monitor has found that, as of the end of 2020, more people than ever before are living in closed, repressed, or obstructed countries.

Read on The International Institute for Sustainable Development


Fundamental civic rights have deteriorated across Africa in 2020 - CIVICUS report finds

Advocacy and Campaigns Head at CIVICUS David Kode explains to SABC News the several drivers of civic space violations in Africa including mass protests that were met with violent repression, and electoral processes, mostly presidential elections. Violations in the context of elections often involving the arrest of opposition members and pro-democracy activists, internet shutdowns, detention of journalists and crackdowns on protesters.


USA Downgraded as Civil Liberties Deteriorate Across the Americas

By Débora Leão, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS and Suraj K. Sazawal, co-author of ‘Civil Society Under Strain’

Since May, the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks fundamental freedoms across 196 countries, documented dozens of incidents where law enforcement officers, dressed in riot gear and armed with military grade-equipment, responded to Black Lives Matter protests with excessive force. These include officers driving vehicles at crowds of protesters and firing tear gas canisters and other projectiles at unarmed people, leaving at least 20 people partially blinded.

Read on Inter Press Service


People power under attack as world celebrates International Human Rights Day

By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights is 72 years old, but still the civil, political, economic, social, and cultural rights it protects remain fiercely contested, with 87% of the world's population living in countries with very poor civic space conditions.


Africa: Civic rights were eroded across Africa in 2020

By Sylvia Mbataru and Ine Van Severen, Civic Space Researchers at CIVICUS

Fundamental civic rights, including freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression, deteriorated across Africa in 2020. In its latest annual report, the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks civic freedoms in 196 countries, downgraded four countries in West Africa. Côte d'Ivoire, Guinea, Niger and Togo have all been downgraded from the "obstructed" to "repressed" categories, meaning that people in these countries face serious restrictions when trying to exercise their fundamental rights.

Read on All Africa


Civil society fights back as smears and vilification intensify

By Andrew Firmin and Inés Pousadela

The pattern is now clear. In country after country, those who seek to limit rights attack civil society. Alongside tactics such as censorship and misuse of the criminal justice system, a weapon in growing favour is smearing and vilification.


Women’s groups fight back as gender-based violence surges during the pandemic

By Inés Pousadela

Barely weeks into the COVID-19 pandemic, concerns arose about the safety of women trapped indoors with their abusers, and data showing spikes in gender-based violence (GBV) quickly reached the news headlines. But women’s rights organizations all over the world had already anticipated the worst. They knew that economic downturns, natural disasters, and disease outbreaks tend to have disproportionate impacts on women — women would experience the effects first, worst, and for longer. For decades their work had focused on the ways in which decisions made by governments, and government failures, disproportionately impact women, and they realized right away that this pandemic would be no exception.

Read more: Women's Media Center 


CIVICUS report documents how states need civil society as second wave of COVID-19 hits worldwide

By Inés Pousadela, Senior Research Specialist and Andrew Firmin Editor-in-Chief at CIVICUS

Covid-19 has unleashed a multi-dimensional, once-in-a-generation crisis. As the virus swept the globe, civil society organisations played a key role in responding, helping those most in need, filling the gaps left by governments and businesses, and keeping them accountable.

Read on Daily Maverick


Amid COVID-19, what is the health of civic freedoms?

By Marianna Belalba Barreto, Civic Space Research Lead at CIVICUS and Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Research Officer

More than half a year after the World Health Organization declared the COVID-19 outbreak a pandemic, governments are continuing to waste precious time and energy restricting human rights rather than focusing on fighting the virus. Civic freedoms, including the freedom to associate, express views and peacefully assemble, are under threat, with states using broad and restrictive legislation to snuff out dissent. But people are organising and mobilising to demand rights. In the face of restrictions, civil society continues to fight back, often taking to the streets to do so.

Read on Inter Press Service News Agency


With targeted attacks on civil society, the future of democracy hangs in the balance in Tanzania

By Sylvia Mbataru, Civic Space Research at CIVICUS

Elections in East Africa have faced a wave of recent problems. Presidents pursuing extended term limits, allegations of rigged elections, contested results, locking out of independent observers, arrests of opposition candidates, restrictions on civil society: in recent times problems like these have been seen in Burundi, Kenya, Malawi and Uganda. With elections set for October 28, the spotlight now turns to Tanzania.

Read on the East African


Access to information during a pandemic: a matter of life or death

By Inés Pousadela, Senior Research Specialist

No year could be more appropriate than 2020 for the world to celebrate its first International Day for Universal Access to Information (September 28). The pandemic has exposed how important it is for information to flow freely and serve as the basis for decision-making by both governments and citizens. Never is access to information as important as at times when critical decisions are being made that will affect lives, livelihoods, and rights.

Read on Just Security


High stakes and pent up tensions in Côte d’Ivoire’s presidential election

By David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns Lead

As Côte d’Ivoire’s much-anticipated 31 October elections approach, voters are facing a familiar sequence of events. As political tensions grow, the country is once again seeing a rise in the threat of violence, clampdowns on protesters and the opposition, and an incumbent using the state to exclude his opponents.

Read on African Arguments


At 75, is the UN still fit for purpose?

By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

This 75th anniversary offers a unique opportunity to examine the UN’s failings and reflect on ideas to improve its functioning. Experts and practitioners agree that urgent change is needed to enhance the relevance of the UN to people and their organisations around the world.

A major criticism of the UN is that its panoply of systems and structures seem both bewildering and self- serving to outsiders making it difficult to work through them. The UN’s bureaucracy is sprawling and often slow-moving. Its structure is rigidly hierarchical and powerful institutional inertia makes reform hard.

Read on Inter Press Service News


COVID is no reason to obstruct democracy

By Andrew Firmin, Editor-In-Chief of CIVICUS

On the International Day of Democracy, it’s time to say that elections can be held under the pandemic. Elections are, of course, not the only component of democracy, which must also include the ability to express dissent, take part in opposition and hold those in power accountable; but elections are a vital cornerstone of democracy, and countries that do not hold regular free and fair elections cannot be considered democratic.

Read on Equal Times


Côte d’Ivoire’s democracy in the balance as hotly contested elections loom

By David Kode, Advocacy and Campaigns lead at CIVICUS

With two months to go before elections in Côte d’Ivoire, the priority is to ensure that there is an enabling environment for campaigns and rallies to be held without violence. If not adequately addressed, the intense rivalry between party leaders and their supporters may degenerate into violence and instability.

Read on Daily Maverick


From local to global: How can social-activism volunteering unite communities?

Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS

Participation is a human right, deeply rooted in our need to form and voice opinions and influence the structures shaping our lives. While communities are increasingly connected through technology, threats to unity are increasing. Growing polarization, climate change, wars, economic inequality and disease do not recognize national borders. Now, more than ever, people need to work together on shared problems. The global level has therefore become a legitimate sphere of action for people and organizations to claim rights and advance change in this Decade of Action for the SDGs.

Social activism is a powerful form of volunteering and can promote social inclusion through citizen engagement in participatory development processes. The most successful struggles of recent times – against colonialism and authoritarianism, and for women’s and LGBTQI rights – involve a mix of local-level, spontaneous and voluntary acts by citizens coupled with organizational planning and commitment. Through volunteering, individuals can make a difference. Such activism can begin with a like on social media although new technologies also offer tools to mobilize citizens in new and creative ways.

Only three per cent of the world’s population currently lives in countries where fundamental rights of expression, assembly and association are, in general, protected and respected. More recently, we have seen the threats to public health posed by the COVID-19 pandemic being used to restrict democratic freedoms and suppress democratic demands. The SDGs must therefore provide an opportunity to model new international and national democratic processes for civic engagement. It is important to raise awareness that the SDGs will not be achieved without clear mechanisms for civic engagement, such as volunteering and social activism.

We need a new mobilization of social-activism volunteering to unite communities. We need to stimulate and cultivate participation, confidence and competence. Similarly, development and volunteer-involving organizations must walk with volunteers through activism journeys. This will enable connections with citizens already actively volunteering at the grass roots level, building from local to global. One example of this is Innovation for Change (I4C), a community-led global network collaborating to protect civic space and inspired by global experiences to overcome restrictions to basic freedoms of assembly, association and speech.  Another is the Diversity and Inclusion Group for Networking and Action (DIGNA), a collaborative platform that enables individuals and organizations to co-create strategies for inclusion across diverse contexts.

The Decade of Action must be the starting point for a series of new and inclusive national and local debates about what unity means and how democratic values can be defined to encompass everyone, including groups that have been historically excluded and those not previously recognized as citizens. In doing so, we must promote the inclusion of excluded groups in existing democratic systems and institutions and create new spaces that allow volunteers to develop the skills and confidence needed for participation. Evidence from participatory budgeting and community-controlled grant-making shows that the best decisions are made when people are asked to collaborate to define economic and social priorities.

Fostering avenues for individuals and communities to contribute to the SDGs through volunteering can help create a powerful new narrative about our shared future – one that addresses contemporary grievances and offers a positive vision that unites communities. The Decade of Action is an opportunity to reaffirm the direct links between development and democracy and recognize the key roles of volunteers as change-makers in these processes.

Plan of Action to Integrate Volunteering into the 2030 Agenda

The Plan of Action to Integrate Volunteering into the 2030 Agenda is a framework under the auspices of the United Nations through which Governments, United Nations entities, volunteer-involving organizations, private sector, civil society including academia and other stakeholders come together to integrate volunteerism into the planning and implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) by:

  1. strengthening people’s ownership of the development agenda;
  2. integrating volunteerism into national and global implementation strategies; and
  3. measuring

You can read the full report here


Under attack but fighting back

By Débora Leão, Civic Space Research Officer at CIVICUS and Marianna Belalba Barreto, Civic Space Cluster Lead at CIVICUS

2019 was a year of collective action, and although the repression of civic space activism continues to rise, human rights defenders, activists, and civil society continue to operate, adapt, and resist. There are many success stories of human rights defenders who continue their work despite mounting restrictions, and it is important to recognise, celebrate, and learn from those stories and to work to bring these narratives to the surface of public attention to inspire us all. This article will look at a few cases of valuable achievements resulting from defenders’ work. In addition, the article will provide an overview of key restrictions and trends and what they can tell us about how civic space affects human rights defenders around the world and particularly in the Americas through the lens of the data collected over the course of 2019 by the CIVICUS Monitor.

Read on: Conectas


Coronavirus: Will it change our politics?

Has the Coronavirus crisis changed our view of politicians and what citizens now expect from them? Leaders around the world have dealt with the pandemic very differently, with some being praised for their handling of the outbreak, and some criticised. Is it time for a new social contract between people and their governments? Has there been too much division within nations, and the international community? As Covid-19 continues to rage, with persistently high death rates in many countries and leaving economic devastation in its wake, what do people now want from their leaders?

CIVICUS Secretary-General Lysa John joins Zeinab Badawi and James Graham on BBC's Global Questions.


Journalists fight back: Media freedom is further eroded in Hungary

By Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS & Orsolya Reich, Advocacy Officer at Civil Liberties Union for Europe

What little media independence remains in Hungary hangs by a thread. The country is in serious democratic trouble. The big question is: does the European Union have the political will to take decisive action?

Read on Visegrad Insight


Stories from the youth climate movement in the Global South

By Inés Pousadela, Senior Research Specialist at CIVICUS

In early 2020, as millions went into lockdown to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the environment experienced temporary relief from the impacts of human activity. As skies cleared and birds and animals claimed city spaces, it became apparent that the young people who had mobilized for the climate across the world in 2019 were right: Much environmental damage is the result of human action, and as such, can also be reversed through human initiative.

The experience of 2020 has made clear that whether the threat is climate change or a pandemic, humanity won’t survive its challenges unless people act collectively on the basis of scientific consensus.

Read on Yes Magazine


Civil society in the post-pandemic world

By Inés Pousadela, Senior Research Specialist at CIVICUS

In many circles, ‘civil society participation’ has become a fashion accessory that everyone wants to flaunt. And indeed, judging by the weak ways in which international institutions often offer participation, too many people in powerful places view civil society as merely an accessory.

Read on Transparency International


Ending Systemic Racism

Around the world, protesters have gathered in solidarity with the US Black Lives Matter movement as they demand an end to systemic racism. As the COVID-19 crisis continues to aggravate pre-existing structural and social inequalities, how can leaders join communities in effecting change at this historical turning point?

Thando Hopa, Diversity Advocate and International Model, Thando Hopa Media, South Africa
Lysa John Berna, Secretary-General, CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation, South Africa
Cheryl L. Dorsey, President, Echoing Green, USA
Judith Williams, Head, People Sustainability; Senior Vice-President; Chief Diversity and Inclusion Officer, SAP, USA

Moderated by:
Isabelle Kumar, Journalist and Presenter, Euronews, France

Watch the virtual session here: 

WEF Ending Systemic Racism


COVID-19 Used as Smokescreen to Undermine Gender Rights Globally

By Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, sexual and reproductive rights are being attacked globally: LGBTQI+ persons are facing heightened discrimination, women find themselves trapped indoors with the perpetrators of domestic violence, and access to abortion is being restricted.

Not only have most governments failed to respond to the crisis through a gendered lens, deepening already harmful gender inequalities, but many have used the crisis as an opportunity to introduce laws that threaten to have a detrimental long-term effect on gender rights. In some cases, especially where far-right governments are in power, political leaders are using the opportunity to further push their anti-rights agenda.

Read on Women's Media Center


Coronavirus and European Civil Society

By Aarti Narsee, Civic Space Researcher at CIVICUS

European civil society is in a tug-of-war between restrictions, which may lead to the rise of a more fragile, authoritarian Europe, and resilience, which may suggest a more optimistic future in which civil society emerges stronger than before.

A wave of civic resilience is sweeping across Europe. From online protests to symbolic messaging within the confines of physical distancing, activists are finding creative ways to fight back against perceived injustices amid restrictions to stop the spread of the coronavirus. The extent to which civil society can succeed in these efforts will determine what kind of Europe emerges from the pandemic.

Read on Carnegie Europe


Observations on the quest to build back better

SDG Knowledge Hub’s interview with Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer

  • Five years since the passage of the SDGs, the impulse in many quarters is still to scale up existing approaches, rather than to push for fundamental changes in how our societies and economies function to better realize rights.
  • In addition, there are worrying signs that COVID-19 emergency restrictions could be used as a smokescreen for a broader crackdown on dissent, which would undermine accountability for the 2030 Agenda.
  • Countries that appear to have done better are ones that have empathetic leaders who have been inclusive in their policy responses and have involved civil society in decision making.

The SDG Knowledge Hub spoke with Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS, about his assessment of responses to the COVID-19 pandemic and impacts on the 2030 Agenda. Mandeep highlights the persistence of “MDG mindsets” and an increase in censorship and surveillance. He also suggests five ways to build a better post-pandemic world.

Read full interview in SDG Knowledge Hub


Right to protest and civic freedoms

By Josef Benedict, civic space researcher at CIVICUS

The right to peaceful assembly is a fundamental freedom and key pillar for civic space. When civic space is open, citizens and civil society organisations are able to organise, participate, and communicate without hindrance. They will also be able to claim their rights and influence the political and social structures around them. This can only happen when a state holds by its duty to protect its citizens and respects the right to protest.

However, for many Bangladeshis going out on to the street to protest can be a terrifying experience. You could end being arbitrarily arrested, beaten up, face rubber bullets and tear gas. You could also be ill-treated by police and even prosecuted for organising or participating in a peaceful protest. Even after the protests end, you could face intimidation and surveillance.

Read on New Age


Censorship and surveillance could be the biggest rights challenges post Covid-19

By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS & Marianna Belalba Barreto, Civic Space Researcher

Significant public attention in relation to Covid-19 has focused on the economic dimensions of the virus resulting in joblessness and deprivation on a monumental scale. But something else is severely under threat — civic space — basically the right to freely organise, participate and communicate in public life.

Over the past few months, while health and economic concerns have taken public stage, insidious power grabs have been taking place, prompting the United Nation’s special expert on the right to privacy to warn that “dictatorships and authoritarian societies often start in the face of a threat”.

Read on Mail & Guardian


COVID-19 is a reminder that civil society is vital to the defence of our collective well-being

This article was originally published on Revista da Plataforma Portuguesa das ONGD

What is Feminist Leadershi 2

By Lysa John
Secretary-General, CIVICUS

Covid-19 victims dying in hospital corridors and on the streets of Guayaquil, Ecuador. Starving community members queueing for kilometres for food parcels in Tshwane, South Africa. Millions thrown into unemployment around the world. Not since World War 2 has the world experienced a calamity that has disrupted every facet of life as fast and fundamentally as Covid-19. And never before has civil society had as little preparation to negotiate a catastrophe of this magnitude.

Governments have acted with varying degrees of urgency and efficiency, but most have introduced emergency laws restricting freedom of movement and enforcing lockdowns to flatten the curve. States have had to abide by their fundamental duty to protect people’s lives through lockdowns, but need to balance this with adequate economic and social safety nets to help those most affected by lockdown measures – something many have failed to do.

Few dispute the need for social distancing and travel clampdowns. Such restrictions, however, must be legal and non-discriminatory, and necessary to protect public health. Yet regimes across the world have used Covid-19 measures as tools to cross the line between protecting their citizens and stifling freedom of speech and violating human rights for political or autocratic reasons. More than ever, it’s up to civil society to ensure checks and balances, to call out injustice and assist the marginalised.

Civic space violations and challenges

The enormity and urgency of the Covid-19 catastrophe mean non-governmental, activist and aid organisations are scrambling to meet unprecedented levels of need.

China’s initial censorship helped spread the virus. Social media users, bloggers, activists and journalists have been muzzled, detained, summoned or even assaulted for spreading information about the virus or criticising authorities in countries such as Vietnam, Iran, Niger, Kenya, Venezuela and the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Police in Pakistan are reported to have arrested medical staff protesting about a lack of personal protective equipment, while security forces have been accused of using excessive force or degrading citizens breaking lockdowns in the Philippines, South Africa, Kenya and elsewhere.

Activities such as these have made action on the pandemic harder, and have made it more difficult for people to protect themselves and their families, while allowing disinformation to thrive.

National lockdowns have also had unintended, potentially deadly consequences. UN Women has warned of domestic violence increasing as victims are locked down with abusive partners – leading to a “shadow pandemic”. Six months of lockdown could lead to an additional 31-million cases of gender-based violence, according to an analysis by the United Nations Population Fund, in collaboration with Avenir Health, Johns Hopkins University and Australia’s Victoria University.

Last month, in April 2020, more than 600 organisations called on world leaders not to use the pandemic as a pretext to restrict civic space.

Civil society at the forefront

How is civil society responding to this extraordinary time in history?

Community organisations are distributing food and delivering aid to people unable to work or earn during lockdowns. Groups are raising money for emergency relief, medical supplies and personal protective equipment for health workers. In India, NGOs have reportedly outperformed state governments in providing humanitarian relief to stranded migrant labourers and the poor in 13 states.

Beyond relief efforts, rights groups are holding authorities to account. In Zimbabwe, the advocacy group Lawyers for Human Rights secured an urgent application to stop abuses by the country’s security forces.

Organised activities by civil society have been supported by informal civic action. In Brazil, citizens have voiced their anger at President Jair Bolsonaro’s handling of the pandemic by banging pots and pans on their balconies.

The virus can affect anyone, but its consequences shine a light on existing inequalities. In highly developed Singapore, migrant workers housed in overcrowded dormitories have borne the brunt of the pandemic, making up around 85% of the city state’s more than 16 000 Covid-19 cases by 1 May. Civic groups were instrumental in highlighting this dire situation. 

The G-20 and International Monetary Fund have promised debt suspensions for poor countries, enabling states to reroute resources to healthcare and poverty relief, but these are short-term measures. Recognising that the crisis presents an opportunity to negotiate permanent reforms to international finance institutions’ approaches to debt, civil society groups are ensuring this outcome remains central to the international response.

In spite of social distancing, the pandemic has brought people together. In mid-April, global citizens and artists proved the power of social action when the One World: Together at Home virtual concert raised almost $128-million to support frontline healthcare workers in the fight against Covid-19.

Stronger together

The development sector was unprepared for a calamity of this magnitude. It has compelled us to reflect on the fragility of our support systems, to address this and to present an opportunity for a permanent shift in working towards a more resilient future.

Women make up nearly 70% of the workforce in our sector, but are heavily under-represented in its leadership. As resources shrink, they will be the first to lose their livelihoods, while having a painfully small say in the decisions their organisations make to tide this crisis. We must be bolder in adopting the social security measures we demand from governments and businesses.

Without trust and authenticity, our organisations cannot withstand the formidable challenges that all agencies – large and small – will need to respond to in coming years. It is remarkable that local organisations from the global south have been the first to embrace the Covid-19 Social Security Protocol, developed in line with the International Labour Organization’s Covid-19 policy framework.

Four years after the international community committed to the “localisation agenda”, the percentage of official development assistance directly reaching the southern civil society remains at the same level: less than 1%. This means that while community organisations are best placed to provide a sustained response to complex crises like pandemics, they remain pitifully under-resourced. To emerge stronger, we need to significantly increase investments in civil society organisations in the global south.

An enabling infrastructure for local organisations will allow us to harness the people-powered solutions we need to negotiate the complex, unexpected challenges of Covid-19.

Finally, civil society must significantly upscale strategies to put human rights at the heart of public interventions. We need a serious effort to dismantle systems that perpetuate cycles of poverty, discrimination and violence, including rethinking how our economies are structured and ensuring sustainable means of production and consumption that allow for the regeneration of natural resources.

Our most important indicator of shared progress must be the transformations needed to make the world fit for future generations. We need to recognise those in frontline roles, who are often the least valued in society but who will get us through this pandemic. 

The degree to which we commit ourselves to achieving these reforms will determine our future relevance as civil society.


OPINION: Want a better post-pandemic world? Civil society has the answers

By Andrew Firmin, CIVICUS Editor-in-Chief 

Many of us continue to live in states of lockdown, but even as we do so the debate about what kind of world we want to re-emerge to should be an urgent one. It’s common to hear the sentiment that people can’t wait for life to get back to normal. But we need to ask whether that old normal is good enough. Many in civil society would suggest there is a need to aim higher.

Read on Thompson Reuters Foundation News


To face COVID-19, the human rights community must first protect its own workers

By Lysa John, Secretary General of CIVICUS

This crisis should be a wakeup call to all of us in civil society to strengthen social protection measures in our own sector. This is the moment to change how we work and to protect our own, so that they can go out and protect others.

Read on Open Global Rights


Undercurrents: Protecting workers during COVID-19

Discussion between Lysa John and Agnes Frimston for Chatham House Undercurrent podcast 


In this week's episode of Chatham House's podcast Undercurrents, Lysa John, Secretary General of CIVICUS joins Agnes in discussing the impact that the coronavirus pandemic has had on worker's rights across the world. They also discuss the role of civil society not only in bringing everyone together in responding to the repercussions of the virus on vulnerable communities but also in monitoring states' response to the pandemic and calling on the resulting violations of fundamental human rights.

Listen to the discussion on Chatham House


'Can job security be guaranteed?' Interview with Lysa John

Interview with Lysa John about why protecting workers during the COVID-19 crisis is crucial.

As the COVID-19 pandemic advances around the world, the threat of unemployment creates the main point of stress and discomfort for tens of millions of people. Economic activity across the globe is plummeting - 80% of the global workforce have had their workplace fully or partially closed and the ILO (International Labour Organisation) is projecting that 25 million workers may lose their jobs. CIVICUS Secretary-General, Lysa John sheds more light.

Join more than 200 organisations and adopt the Social Security Protocol


Future of Civil Society Organisations

Lysa John future of civil societyThe COVID-19 pandemic can re-energise the demands of civil society organisations to put people at the heart of the changes we need: to protect the planet from degradation, to ensure that all human beings can enjoy prosperous and fulfilling lives, that economic, social and technological progress occurs in harmony with nature and fosters peaceful, just and inclusive societies. In this publication, a group of leaders of civil society networks and platforms, including CIVICUS, share their observations and thoughts, identifying possible directions that civil society organisations may want to go.

 Read Lysa John's contribution to the publication.




World Press Freedom Day: The assault on media freedom in Asia worsens during COVID-19 pandemic

By Josef Benedict, civic space researcher at CIVICUS

May 3rd marks World Press Freedom Day around the world. During this COVID-19 pandemic, a robust media environment is critical: access to life-saving information is key in the fight against the virus. As governments impose a range of restrictions in attempts to curb the pandemic, journalists help hold authorities to account by providing analysis, engaging in debate about government actions, and creating a space for dialogue about the future we all hope to see.

Read on Inter Press Service


Fit for the future: Can we emerge stronger from the COVID-19 crisis?

By Lysa John (CIVICUS), Chris Worman (TechSoup) and Benjamin Bellegy (WINGS)

It seems ironic that only a few months ago, we were celebrating 2019 as the ‘Year of People Power’ and a mass global uprising against autocratic regimes across the world seemed achievable. At a stroke, we have experienced the abrupt removal of fundamental freedoms that human rights defenders have fought to protect. And yet, civil society across the world has found new ways to respond to the outbreak.

Read on Alliance Magazine


On World Press Freedom Day, the EU must rescue media independence in Hungary before it’s too late

By Aarti Narsee, civic space research officer at CIVICUS

Censorship, smear campaigns and harassment. These are just some of the daily struggles that media professionals are facing in Hungary. And now the threat of jail time may be looming. In the context of World Press Freedom Day, there is little to celebrate in the Eastern Bloc region. The government, under the leadership of Prime Minister Victor Orban and his Fidesz Party, has ramped up its efforts to destroy any remaining media independence with its ‘Bill on the Protection against the Coronavirus’. 

Read on Inter Press Service


Reimagining a post-COVID world: Key principles for the future

By Mandeep Tiwana, Chief Programmes Officer at CIVICUS

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic is disrupting our lives and livelihoods in wholly unanticipated ways, testing the resilience of our social, economic and political structures. Fundamental problems in our economies and societies stand exposed and accelerated. A global recovery effort will be needed. But it must do more than just paper over cracks. Business as usual approaches won’t work. In the current scenario, we at CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, believe that resolute action on five key areas is crucial.

Read on: InterPress Service News




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