By Forus international
Despite restrictions, lockdowns and curfews, millions of people around the world mobilised with intense discussions, agitations and processions, to demand more just, equal and sustainable societies in 2021. All this while witnessing clamp downs on civic freedoms and rights restrictions – both online and offline.
But how did civil society react?
This year, from Uganda to Colombia, passing through South East Asia and Eastern Europe, we have heard from several voices within and beyond the Forus network on how democratic space, polarising politics and divided societies are affecting civic space globally. Two areas of focus linked to civic space have particularly demanded efforts and actions in 2021: digitalisation and the construction of alternative narratives to promote and protect the work of civil society worldwide.
The Digital “Joker”
It all started with the tagline: “no civic space without digital space.” The # Let’s Talk Digital campaign developed by Forus was born after researching and publishing a joint report with TechSoup on a digital enabling environment. The aim of the campaign and our recent advocacy efforts is to (a) spark debates on digitalisation and (b) collect recommendations from civil society organisations to shape the agendas of governments, institutions and “Tech Giants”.
Via micro-surveys, interviews, research and collaborations, the campaign aims at inspiring civil society organisations to hold governments responsible and challenge and suggest policies that secure the digital wellbeing of communities. Though representation in international forums is indespensable, it is participation that transforms civil society into an agent capable of suggesting alternatives and defending the rights of communities.
From Taiwan Aid, Global Focus in Denmark, SLOGA in Slovenia or CONGCOOP in Guatemala, the # Let’s Talk Digital campaign thus collects concrete recommendations, data and examples “from the field”. Digitalisation doesn’t come in one form or shape, and it’s important to enlarge spaces of discussion and advocacy around this issue.
In 2022, we invite allies and partners to participate in the # Let’s Talk Digital campaign – let’s join hands to shape “our digital futures”. The goal is clear: how can we advocate for an inclusive, human-rights-based and democratic form of digitalisation that will empower and enable rather than restrict and repress?
Changing narratives about civil society
Narratives represent another necessary instrument for promoting an enabling environment for civil society. Civil society organisations are increasingly targeted with narratives undermining their work. Those at the frontline of social change are often depicted as “corrupt”, “money-oriented” or “enemies of the State”, especially in populist rhetoric. This can have very concrete impacts on the work of civil society ranging from popular distrust and hostility to cuts of public fundings.
Civil society organisations increasingly need to counter negative narratives with alternative ones. What are the negative stereotypes being used to describe civil society organisations? What actions and reactions do they trigger? How do we “reclaim” narratives about the activities and experiences of civil society? How do we develop compelling narratives with a bottom-up approach? And finally, how can we create alternative narratives that promote and protect the work of civil society organisations?
These are some of the questions being explored by the participants of the Forus Working Group on an Enabling Environment, which kicked off earlier this year and will continue throughout 2022. The Working Group led and animated by Forus members and allies, such as PLATONG, from Cape Verde and DENIVA, from Uganda, aims at countering negative narratives about civil society organisations and formulating alternative ones. The focus is on identifying narratives, unpacking them, unveiling where they originate from, “who is the messenger and what is the message”, seeing how they affect public perception of civil society, and exploring how different target groups react to them. With this knowledge and brainstorming process, the aim is to then start developing new narratives according to local, national, regional or global contexts.
Collecting experiences and examples from Forus members such as Abong countering polarisation in Brazil, or Ccong in Colombia discussing feminism in Latin America, the working group will result in a practical “How to Guide” and campaign for civil society networks and organisations that can be replicated in and applied to national and local contexts.
Interested in building an enabling environment for civil society? Find some extra resources below:
- Towards an Enabling Digital Environment: The purpose of this report, “Towards an enabling digital environment for civil society”, is to highlight the impacts of digitalisation experienced by our civil society members; to explore risks and important opportunities; and to advocate for an inclusive, human-rights-based and democratic form of digitalisation that will empower and enable rather than restrict and repress. Complete our # Let’s Talk Digital micro-survey on digitalisation here!
- Read the Civil society recommendations “Together for an Equal, Just and Democratic Digital World Action Programme for Tech for Democracy” – with inputs from over 100 organisations.
- Be the narrative: Brought to you by JustLabs and the Fund for Global Human Rights (FGHR), Be the narrative lays out bold steps for building new narratives about human rights. “Viewing the increasingly antagonistic tide against human rights as part of a broader transformation process, we worked with 12 human rights organisations to produce new narratives that not only respond to those of populists, but that provide an alternate vision of what human rights are, where they take place, and who they are for.”
- Forus A Space for Us podcast: A Space for Us podcast – a participative storytelling project with Forus members, allies and activists from around the globe. From Nepal to Central Africa, Bolivia, Taiwan and Portugal, we share stories from over 15 countries with 30+ individuals at the forefront of social change.
Article written in collaboration with Bibbi Abruzzini, Laura Manzi, Yohan Cambet and Adelaide Marre.
For more information: Deirdre De Burca, Forus Advocacy Coordinator – firstname.lastname@example.org Yohan Cambet, Assistant Communication Coordinator – email@example.com