Welcome to the 3rd part of the e-Discussions, now focusing on “Civic engagement and civic space”, and on how the COVID-19 pandemic has affected progress towards establishing more ‘just societies’, as envisioned by SDG 16, and what is needed for an equitable recovery from this crisis. The findings and experiences shared here will be consolidated into an overall synthesis report feeding into the Global Roundtable at the 2021 High-level Political Forum, and your contributions will be acknowledged in the report.
Civic engagement and civic space
The global health, economic and social crisis generated by the COVID-19 pandemic has dramatically highlighted the vulnerability of certain populations which have been disproportionately affected. Existing structural problems and inequalities have been exacerbated. The World Bank estimates that, in a worst-case scenario, an additional 115 million people will fall into extreme poverty due to the pandemic.
In this challenging environment, Civil Society Organizations (CSOs) play an essential role. CSOs that connect to and work with marginalized communities with a focus on advocacy and accountability are key to ensuring that human rights, transparency and citizen's participation are safeguarded. Furthermore, in an environment where governments face unprecedented economic negative shocks and need to decide what trade-offs to make, civil society organizations that focus their work on research and analysis are essential to promote decisions that are evidence-based. Without organizations that represent a wide range of people, we cannot build just, peaceful and inclusive societies that ¨leave no one behind¨.
Yet, even before the pandemic, civic space had been shrinking worldwide. According to the 2020 CIVICUS Monitor, only 3.4% of the world’s population lives in countries with open civic space. Governments’ efforts to curb infections have affected people’s civil and political rights, such as the freedom to assembly. While restrictions may be justified when their temporary nature and proportionality are ensured, there is also evidence that, in many contexts, the current situation has been used as a pretext to limit civil society action in a targeted and unjustified manner.
In this discussion, we invite you to share your reflections on the opportunities and risks that the pandemic has generated for civic engagement and civic space. What role do civil society organizations play in the current context and how does this, in turn, affect the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals? What is at stake?
To facilitate the discussion, we propose the following framing questions:
- In many cases, CSOs have taken a protagonist role in ensuring accountability, supporting marginalized communities and promoting evidence-based decision-making during the current social, economic and health crisis. Can you share good examples of effective engagement between civil society and government that highlight the important role CSOs play in society? What recommendations do you have in order to make these good practices sustainable?
- How have COVID-19 related measures taken by governments across the globe hindered civic engagement, social movements and the right of protest and freedom of expression? Has this happened in your region? In what ways? Could this have permanent or long-lasting effects? What recommendations do you have to address these challenges?
- A shift to remote work and broader use of technologies to interact, request public services and access education has incentivized the active participation of youth but has excluded groups that don´t have access to these tools. Overall, has this shift generated new online spaces to promote participation that strengthens civil society? Or does this create more exclusion?
To kick us off, Southern Voice members have written two articles presenting evidence from Uganda and Latin America. We will explore their findings together during this e-discussion, but I invite you to take a look at them and add your perspectives on the issues they touch on, in the thread.
The moderators for the e-discussion are:
- Cristina Ordóñez, Grupo FARO, Ecuador
- Emanuele Sapienza, UNDP Regional Hub Panama
- Julia Kercher, UNDP Oslo Governance Centre
Welcome message from Cristina Ordóñez
We look forward to hearing your ideas and to an engaging conversation!
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