Charities and other progressive organisations are being squeezed out of public discussion by socially conservative and regressive forces, according to a report assessing the state of global civil society.
CIVICUS published its annual State of Civil Society Report 2018 this month, which warns that “uncivil society is on the rise”.
It said that “regressive voices” are entering the civil society arena, and that: “Socially conservative forces are claiming civil society space, among them pressure groups that seek to rob women of their reproductive rights, think tanks that act as outriders for nationalist and xenophobic ideas and market fundamentalism, and protest movements against LGBTI, refugees and migrants’ rights.”
The report said these voices are “increasingly emboldened” and that in some cases they are supported by “regressive governments” which are funding organisations.
It called for “greater clarity about what civil society is”.
“We need to be clear about and restate the essential values that define who can be identified as a member of civil society,” the report says.
“We also need to pay renewed attention to efforts to demonstrate that we are accountable and transparent, so the public can understand what civil society really is and believes in.”
It also said civil society needs to “formulate a new defence of multilateralism” and to find new ways of engaging with the private sector.
Get our house in order on gender discrimination
The report highlighted the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements as an example of an issue that needs attention from civil society and said the sector must get its own house in order.
“We need to take an active part in movements that put patriarchy under the spotlight and challenge behaviours and attitudes that enable sexism, gender discrimination and other forms of intersecting discriminations, wherever we see them,” it said.
"But the sector must get its own house in order first. Revelations and rumours of sexual harassment within civil society must be taken seriously and investigated fully, perpetrators dealt with and findings shared transparently.
"We need to lead by example by putting in place and implementing clear policies on workplace harassment in CSOs. We have to ensure we model and promote best practice as civil society, on this issue as in all others.”
Fightback is on
In previous years the report has noted the increasing difficulties for civil society. But this year it said there is some cause for optimisim, that “resistance works” and that there had been a number of successes in 2017 to show this.
It gave the example of protests in Romania resisting government plans to “soft pedal on corruption” and persuading the government in El Salvador to ban gold-mining practices that harm the land, water and communities.
“Almost everywhere we look, we see signs of citizens organising and mobilising in new and creative ways to defend civic freedoms, fight for social justice and equality, and pushback on populism,” said Dr. Dhananjayan Sriskandarajah, secretary general of CIVICUS. “What is different about this year’s report is the focus on resistance; the fightback is on.”
The report added that the challenge now is to sustain this fightback.
Top ten trends
The report identified ten key trends. They are:
- Globalised neoliberalism is failing people all around the world.
- Polarising politics are dividing our societies.
- Personal rule by political leaders is undermining democratic institutions.
- Attacks are increasing on journalists reporting on corruption and public protests.
- Growing surveillance and manipulation of opinion is betraying the promise of social media.
- Uncivil society is claiming civil society space.
- Multilateralism is in the firing line.
- The private sector's growing role in governance demands more scrutiny.
- Patriarchy is now firmly under the spotlight.
- Civil society is fighting back and building resolute resistance.