There has been a “widespread demonisation” of civil society in recent years, and last year was a “dismal one for civil society around the world”, according to a report by international civil society alliance Civicus.
Civicus’s annual report, The State of Civil Society 2016, said that one of the “sinister developments” seen today is the “widespread demonisation of civil society activists – as terrorists, traitors, foreign puppets, or disconnected elites”.
In the foreword by Civicus’s secretary general Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah said: “We need to challenge these narratives, demonstrate the value of civil society and convince people of its worth.”
He also said that Civicus tracked serious threats to one of more civil freedoms in over 100 countries – “particularly for those activists who dare to challenge economic and political elites, the environment in which civil society operates has continued to deteriorate”.
Sriskandarajah said civil society needs to find new ways of responding to these growing threats.
The report is produced each year to celebrate the achievements of civil society, understand the conditions it works in and encourage action to address the challenges it encounters. Each year the report has a theme, with this year’s being civil society and exclusion.
This year’s report shows that in many countries, and in all global regions, civil space has worsened appreciably in recent years. It defines civil space as the freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression.
The report revealed that the number of women-led top 100 civil society organisations has increased. It said that when it looked at this in 2013, there was 31 civil society organisations with women at the top, which has now increased to 38.
However, the report continued: “This may seem better than women leadership figures in politics or big business, but women make up some two-thirds of the workforce of many CSOs. The possibility that a ‘glass pyramid’ is stifling the potential of women in civil society, and thereby constricting the work of the sector, cannot be ignored.”
The report includes guest contributions from 33 civil society activists, leaders and experts on the theme of exclusion and civil society.