Time to stop talking about ‘closing space’ for civil society?

On 26 September 2017, the research collaboration between the Westminster Foundation for Democracy and the University of Birmingham launched a new policy paper at the European Endowment for Democracy in Brussels. 

WFD Research Fellow, Susan Dodsworth reflects on the discussion at the event.

 

In the last few years there has been mounting concern about the state of democracy around the world. Experts have expressed fear of global democratic recession, authoritarian leaders have become more savvy in resisting democratisation, and Western democracies have become vulnerable to ‘hollowing out’ as an increasing number of people become disillusioned with, and disengage from, their political systems. While it’s probably a bit too pessimistic to claim (as some have) that ‘democracy is dying’, it is clear that democracy is under mounting pressure.

Policy-makers and practitioners tend to talk about this problem in terms of ‘closing space’, with the relevant ‘space’ defined in terms ranging from civic, to political, to democratic. Indeed, this is the kind of language that Nic Cheeseman and I use in our latest policy paper for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD). In that paper, we examine when parliaments protect political space by rejecting (or reforming) restrictive civil society laws.

In the discussions that followed the launch of our policy paper, Richard Youngs (one of the leading experts on democracy support) expressed his dissatisfaction with the language of ‘closing space’. As he explained – and I found myself agreeing – talking about the repression of opposition political parties, or attempts to constrain the activities to civil society groups, in such terms obscures the fact that these things are not accidents of chance or products of circumstance. Instead, they are the products of deliberate decisions made by political actors.

This made me wonder: is it time to stop talking about ‘closing space’? There is a real risk that this term, though fashionable, is encouraging us to ignore or underestimate the agency of political leaders. This is important because if we ignore agency, we’ll never understand incentives. This matters, because it’s generally incentives that explain why certain interventions (be they diplomatic appeals, or democracy support programmes) work, while others do not.

Photo: Susan Dodsworth presenting ‘Defending Democracy: when do parliaments protect political space?’ at the European Endowment for Democracy.

Understanding the incentives that are driving the phenomenon of ‘closing space’ won’t be easy. They’re likely to vary, not just between countries but also between individuals. As our policy paper highlights, things like the nature of the electoral system can have a significant influence on what motivates legislators to resist – or facilitate – the passage of laws designed to restrict the political influence of civil society. So too can the historical legacies of colonialism, which continue to shape debates about the legitimacy of groups reliant on donor funds and those who defend them.

It may also be hard to find the time and attention required to understand incentives properly. In some parts of the world, political activists face real threats – threats of harassment, imprisonment, and serious physical harm. There are good reasons why the attention (and funding) of many policy makers and practitioners has tended to focus on supporting and protecting these front-line defenders of democracy.

Despite this, it’s critical that we invest time and resources in better understanding the incentives that are driving the closure of political space. If we don’t understand why some political leaders are adopting laws, policies and practices that undermine democracy, we don’t have much hope of helping others to fight against them in a sustainable and successful way.

Read: Defending Democracy – When do parliaments protect political space? in full. 

 

Photo (main): Support for LGBT+ rights has been used to discredit civil society groups in several countries, including Russia and Uganda (credit: Marco Fieber)
Continue Reading

Human rights, the rule of law and global challenges to democracy

By Thomas Hughes, Independent Governor

Democracy worldwide is seemingly under increasing threat, with restrictions and repression on the rise. Well established democracies appear to be eroding their institutions and standards from within, whilst emergent democracies are failing to deliver accountability, broad participation and power-sharing. Leaders of faux-democracies have learnt how to rule with a ‘velvet fist’ to maintain an outwardly palatable veneer whilst suppressing internal opposition. Leaders of established democracies seem increasingly ready to jeopardise long-standing norms for short-term political gain.

If we cast our minds back only 20 years, the post-cold war period of 1990 to 1995 saw an explosion in democratisation, with over 120 nominally democratic countries by the turn of the century. Given this surge, the realisation that much of this progress has not been deep-rooted makes the regression more explainable. Although not an ‘end of history’ fatalist, I nevertheless believe the cards remain stacked in the favour of democracy in the long-term. Where democracy exists, it’s systems and institutions fail because individuals or groups manipulate and abuse them without accountability or recourse.

My reason for becoming an independent governor of the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is that it’s work to strengthen democratic institutions and political parties is crucial for reversing this downward trend. Alongside this, I believe the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law must also be central, with a focus on three areas. Firstly, closing the human rights implementation gap between international standards and national action; secondly emboldening national civil society and media; and thirdly strengthening judiciaries and legal communities.

Human rights, multilateralism and the closing implementation gap

A number of global and regional intergovernmental institutions play important roles in setting and monitoring state compliance with human rights. Among these is the United Nations Human Rights Council. When the Council was created a decade ago it was designed to be more relevant, credible and impartial than its predecessor. The Council has achieved important successes, but there is growing polarisation, as well as clear attempts by states to block or evade human rights scrutiny. The Vienna Declaration, unanimously adopted more than two decades ago, confirmed “the promotion and protection of all human rights is a legitimate concern of the international community.” However, there remains an implementation gap between international agreements and national actions. As such, all states need to seriously pursue implementation of international human rights commitments domestically and must clearly and consistently hold one another to account for doing so.

Emboldening national civil society and media

A robust and protected civic space forms the cornerstone of accountable and responsive democratic governance. As seen by the growing prowess of civic campaigns and the colour revolutions of the past decades, civil society is growing in strength. However, according to the Carnegie Endowment, over the past three years more than 60 countries have passed or drafted laws that curtail the activity of non-governmental and civil society organisations, whilst 96 countries have taken steps to inhibit NGOs from operating at full capacity. This is being done with a ‘viral-like’ spread of new copycat laws targeting areas like finance, registration, protest, censorship and ‘anti-propaganda’ and independent media. To counter this, the rights to information, expression, protest and participation must be rigorously defended.

Strengthening judiciaries and legal communities

Legal communities and the judiciary remain a bulwark against the misuse of power. Recent examples include the East African Court of Justice, a relatively new court based in Arusha, upholding the rights of journalists in Burundi to protect the identities of their sources, and finding the country’s criminal defamation law as inconsistent with international law. In another example, in April the High Court in Kenya ruled that Section 29 of the Information and Communication Act, used to arrest and charge a number of social media users, was unconstitutional. As such, the judiciary is a cornerstone for the defence of human rights and democracy and must be respected and defended as such.

Whilst these are challenging times, the promotion and protection of human rights and the rule of law are essential for the creation and defence of healthy vibrant democracies.

 

(Top: Photo credit: Studio Incendo – Citizens in Hong Kong protest against proposed electoral reforms, in what became known as the “umbrella movement”

Continue Reading

Closing civil society space in East Africa

(Above: Working groups discuss trends within the East Africa region and their effect on CSOs operating space: funding, legislation, freedom of information and human rights)

It has been said that democracy is not a spectator sport.

Good governance is rarely bestowed; it must be demanded and defended by active citizens participating in democratic processes. More often than not, the channel for this participation is through civil society organisations (CSOs), which give citizens the opportunity to engage constructively with government on a wide variety of issues.

But all across the world, civil society is under pressure. In many countries, both democratic and autocratic states are systematically restricting the work of civil society. These developments, collectively known as “closing space”, have become a global trend.

Westminster Foundation for Democracy, in collaboration with the East African Civil Society Organisations’ Forum (EACSOF), hosted a two-day conference on 13 and 14 March in Nairobi, Kenya, to explore opportunities to create a consistently open legislative environment for CSOs at the regional level. The event brought together CSOs, CSO Standardisation bodies, Government and academia to formulate draft principles toward the development of a regional bill to promote and protect CSOs.

Within East Africa, crippling legislation has been passed that severely limits the remit of CSOs. From the need for CSO activities to be approved by the government in Burundi to the inappropriate utilisation of the Cybercrimes Act (2015) in Tanzania, it is a challenging time for civil society. Davis Malombe, Executive Director at the Kenya Human Rights Commission, asked critical questions about overcoming negative legislation: “How do we consolidate the space for CSOs and show governments’ the space is ours and our inalienable right, how do CSOs organise themselves better?” he said.

As Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Rwanda, Burundi and South Sudan work toward regional integration as part of the East African Community (EAC), the region’s parliament – the East African Legislative Assembly (EALA) – presents an opportunity for CSOs in the partner states to articulate their needs and interests as a block. Advocating nationally for supportive legislation and joint advocacy for harmonised legislation for CSO regulation within the partner states provide two options.

Zaa Twalangeti, Program Manager at Tanzanian CSO TAANGO, highlighted the importance of CSOs’ ability to promote and mobilise resources domestically to secure a power base within society: “CSOs assume they are representing citizens but has this been tested? What are we doing as a sector to ensure that we are entrenched as the voice of citizens and so that citizens demand our [CSO] space?” Jimmy Gotyana, South African National NGO Coalition (SANGOCO), asked: “How can CSOs ensure their struggles are expressed within Parliaments and reach the right audience?”

Concerning trends emerging from the research paper and discussions included:

  1. Restrictive definitions of CSOs to only those concerned with service delivery and not advocacy;
  2. Lack of clarity and unreasonable conditions surrounding the registration processes of CSOs;
  3. Increasing regulation limiting funding to CSOs;
  4. Utilisation of various pieces of legislation i.e. cyber security, anti-terrorism, to undermine progressive CSO legislation;
  5. Lack of independence of CSO regulatory bodies and challenges with self-regulation and standards;
  6. Limited access for CSOs to participate in government or legislative processes, especially around the budget and policy;
  7. Lack of protection of CSOs and human rights defenders.

At the end of the two-day conference participating CSOs agreed that regional solidarity is needed and eight draft principles were agreed upon to form the basis of a draft regional bill. Stakeholders must now collaborate across borders and take proactive steps to engage with EALA in order for the draft regional bill to materialise.

This bill can ensure that CSOs operate in a more enabling environment with a dedicated framework for human rights defenders’ that will promote greater accountability from respective governments. The East African experience has the potential to contribute to the global discourse and provide a practical example of how this issue can be overcome.

This conference was organised by WFD’s Kenya Team, based in Nairobi, contact maureen.oduori@wfd.org for more information. 

The WFD-EACSOF Commissioned Research on this topic which triggered this event will be available in coming months and is part of WFD’s wider research around this topic.

Continue Reading

Advancing research on democracy between theory and practice

Graeme Ramshaw, Director of Research and Evaluation

What image comes to mind when you think of ‘research’? A white lab coat? A tall stack of books? An Excel spreadsheet full of data? The truth is that people hold a lot of preconceptions around the word ‘research’ (to say nothing of related words like ‘theory’) and the role it has to play in democracy support programming. At WFD, we’re trying to break down some of these assumptions and encourage better dialogue between researchers and practitioners. This includes recognising that research has many contributions to make in informing the work of WFD and organisations like us.

“Research is what I’m doing when I don’t know what I’m doing”

Wernher von Braun

Practitioners never like admitting that they don’t know what they’re doing. But learning requires acknowledging mistakes. Indeed, emerging trends towards more adaptive approaches to development programming encourage a healthier relationship with failure and uncertainty. WFD is working with our partners the Overseas Development Institute (ODI) and DAI Europe to contextualise these lessons to parliamentary strengthening programmes. At our recent conference “Deliberating Democratisation,” this theme of acknowledging the limitations of our existing evidence and working with academics and others to push these boundaries further came across clearly.

“Research is formalised curiosity. It is poking and prying with a purpose”

Zora Neale Hurston

Oftentimes, however, we have an idea about what we’re looking for when we turn to research. Whether through activities or discussion, questions arise whose answers can only be found through careful and persistent enquiry. Over the past year, WFD has been interested in understanding more about how parliaments can protect and promote human rights; what are the trade-offs in designing parliamentary and political party support programmes; and why political parties in the Middle East and North Africa struggle to gain traction with citizens in the region. The answers we’ve found so far are available on our website, but we’ve got more ‘poking and prying’ to do. In the next year, we’re looking into the relationship between open parliament, transparency, and citizen trust; how to measure and benchmark parliamentary effectiveness in the context of the SDGs; the politics of decentralisation; and much more.

“Research is to see what everybody else has seen and to think what nobody else has thought”

Albert Szent-Gyorgyi

Innovation is always a popular buzzword. Everyone wants to find the next best thing. But research teaches us that old ideas are critical for progress. New ideas build on old ones, filling in gaps or refining the thinking to take it to a new level.  At WFD, our cost of politics research is not inherently new. But by assembling concepts in a way that no one else has done before we have added unique value. Likewise, our upcoming research into closing civil society space with our partners at the University of Birmingham takes an old concept and looks at it from new angle, analysing the processes and incentives that inform decision-making around CSO legislation.

In this intro piece, I’ve tried to show there is no single definition of research; everyone can find one that fits best. The articles that follow give further depth to some of the topics WFD has explored this year through its research and its events. I hope they inspire you to take risks, be curious, and find your own questions and your own answers. Happy researching!

Highlights: WFD research programme

Seeing democracy as an ecosystem By Anthony Smith, CMG

Shaping an innovative approach to adaptive programming in democracy assistance By Sarah Leigh Hunt Consultant in Governance at DAI Europe and Graeme Ramshaw Director of Research and Evaluation 

Are we measuring what really matters? By Susan Dodsworth, Research Fellow 

Closing civil society space in East Africa By Charlotte Egan, Africa Programme Officer

Access to politics: Cost as a barrier By Angie Melano, Research Assistant 

 

Photo: From top left: West Africa Cost of Politics conference, Deliberating Democratisation event and Closing Civil Society Space conference
Continue Reading

Supporting CSOs to engage with parliament in Macedonia

(Above: Blagica Dimitrovska answers questions about Inkluziva’s policy paper at a press conference presenting the work of the 12 CSOs recieving WFD support)

“I know very well the problems that people with disabilities and their families face” Blagica Dimitrovska from CSO “Inkluziva” explained: “as I am one of them.”

Ms Dimitrovska is President at the Association for promotion and development of inclusive society – Inkluziva from Kumanovo, Macedonia, one of the 12 CSOs that the Westminster Foundation for Democracy is currently supporting through an EU funded project. By providing the CSOs with the skills they need to effectively lobby parliament for change we hope to bring real benefits to citizens lives in Macedonia.

“Many times, I’ve been trying to initiate a meeting with state institutions, and I’ve raised this issue at many public events. However, there was no progress” Ms Dimitrovska explained her previous experience trying to support disabled people, before Inkluzia were involved in the project. –. “But now, when I have this public policy paper in my hands, I will advocate for the rights of this target group much more strongly, and I strongly believe that there will be legislative changes soon” she said.

Inkluzia’s mission is to create conditions for an inclusive society through activities and projects that will improve the lives of people with disabilities and the families who support them.

Since May 2016, WFD organised training, panel discussions and mentoring on the best methods to engage with parliament. The most recent session tackled the skills needed to plan, research and write a policy paper and present the findings to the parliament. The “learning by doing” approach was applied with the organisations having a mentor to support with conducting research and writing their policy paper.

(Above: Representatives from CSOs participating in the programme present their policy papers)

“What helped us the most was the direct work on the document with mentor support” says Biljana Dukovska, President at the Macedonian Anti-Poverty Platform, a national platform of CSOs that work to reduce poverty and foster social inclusion. “The trainings provided great theoretical basis, but we could never imagine how big this process actually is, until we started to implement research and translate the findings into a policy paper on our own” she continued.

Having direct support and someone to answer your questions Ms Dukovska found very helpful. “It is good to know that there is someone to ask when you face a difficulty, and for that we had the hand-outs and the mentor at any given moment” she said. Through the collection of life stories about people living in poverty, the Macedonian Anti-Poverty Platform’s policy paper points out inadequacies with the current social financial assistance in Macedonia that keeps people poor and excluded. They propose changes to the system that would influence poverty prevention and reduction.

This project supports CSOs covering a range of pressing human rights issues from social policy and health care issues, to discrimination in higher education and sanctions against hate speech. All 12 CSOs have improved the presentation of their research findings to a manner that an MP would find the most useful to initiate a debate in the Parliament. The ability of CSOs to conduct research and influence the debate in the Parliament will help improve citizen’s human rights in Macedonia, with legislative change being the ultimate goal of WFD’s support. “Prior to our participation in this project, we had a lot of topics and data that were promoted only through the media. Now we can translate that data into policy. Now we know how to plan a research and structure a policy” explains Ms Dukovska.

It’s not just the 12 participating CSOs that will benefit from the project, either. WFD will make all policy papers available to all MPs, thus support the CSOs’ access to the Parliament where they will be able to advocate for the proposed changes in the documents on their own. MPs will also benefit from this process, since they will be provided with relevant and in-depth information and analysis on the existing legislative and evidence-based suggestions for law changes.

WFD’s ambition is for these CSOs to be standard-bearers for a new way of engaging with parliament; successful results for these initiatives will encourage others to adopt the same practices. That can only make Macedonia’s democracy stronger. Doing so will help the effectiveness of the parliament in its efforts to achieve better policy on human rights issues. It will also improve representation of the marginalised groups of citizens set to benefit – both important ingredients in making Macedonia’s governance more inclusive and effective

Continue Reading

Can democracy supporters let civil society be itself?

Susan Dodsworth

Civil society is a central part of the democracy support tool-kit.

Those who seek to promote democracy almost universally identify strong and vibrant civil society as an essential driver of political reform. Supporting civil society is popular because it offers the tantalising prospect of fostering change from the bottom up. Adding to its appeal, civil society provides democracy supporters with an alternative to engaging directly with governments, which are often highly repressive or corrupt. It also promises (or more accurately, appears to promise) a way to support those working on sensitive issues, such as human rights, without interfering in domestic politics.

Democracy supporters want to help civil society because it is an important political actor. Yet, paradoxically, many democracy promoters continue to implement programs in a way that denies or ignores this truth; they engage primarily with professionalised, advocacy-centred NGOs, who they encourage to campaign on the basis of evidence, rather than ideology. This problem arises with respect to development aid more broadly, but it is particularly problematic in the context of democracy support because it perpetuates a de-politicized vision of what civil society is, and what it ought to be. It is understandable that both donors and democracy supporters fall into this trap; more technocratic civil society actors are typically better set up to engage with international partners, and are less likely to trigger resistance from authoritarian governments. However, in reality many civil society organisations are not impartial or evidence-based, but are campaigning bodies established to promote a specific perspective. Moreover, these political variants of civil society are essential to the health of democracy.

The discrepancy between the motivation for and practice of civil society support is well established, but has proved difficult to remedy. In 2010, the UK’s Department for International Development (DFID) commissioned a review of donors’ civil society strategies. It authors observed, ‘All donors now acknowledge that the term includes other associational forms, including trade unions, “traditional” associational groups, and faith-based groups.’ Yet despite the rhetoric of inclusion, the donors continue to prioritize a particular type of organisational structure, built around formal, professionalized organizations. In its recent Civil Society Partnership Review, published in November 2016, DFID highlighted this issue. It noted that grassroots organisations, such as smaller local NGOs and faith-based groups, are often better positioned to achieve lasting impact, admitting that DFID still needs to become better at engaging with these kinds of actors.

In our most recent policy paper for the Westminster Foundation for Democracy, Nic Cheeseman and I discuss several ways in which democracy supporters might expand the range of civil society organisations that they engage. One is to ‘borrow’ the multi-party dialogue format that is often employed by the Netherlands Institute for Multi-Party Dialogue (NIMD) and develop an equivalent version for civil society. Instead of trying to negate or ignore political divides, this approach would aim to work around them by fostering tolerance and mutual respect between those at different ends of the political spectrum. Rather than depoliticising civil society, such a strategy would seek to reduce distrust and foster collaboration between adherents of rival views and beliefs.

In some countries, large civil society forums already exist. However, they are typically seen (by both donors and local governments) as a means of getting civil society to agree on a common position, rather than means of capturing a diverse range of opinions. Governments sometimes use disagreement within civil society as an excuse for ignoring it, asserting that it needs to speak with a single voice if it wants to be heard. Democracy supporters can help to resolve this impasse by encouraging governments to develop consultation processes that accommodate a range of perspectives.

More inclusive strategies for supporting civil society do have risks. There is growing evidence that as external support for civil society grows, so too does the risk that authoritarian incumbents will retaliate, employing a variety of tactics to close political space. Broadening the kinds of civil society that donors support could exacerbate this risk, but taking no risk at all might also prove counterproductive. Playing it safe all the time will leave us with an impoverished version of civil society and a superficial form of democracy. Democracy supporters cannot work with all types of civil society all the time; to attempt this would be both impractical and foolhardy. They do, however, need to find ways to let civil society be itself whenever this is possible.

Publications

 

(Photo: Top: WFD’s, EU funded programme in Uganda supported local CSOs, GWED-G and REACH, to raise awareness about the implementation of CEDAW)
Continue Reading

Interview: Samson Itado

(Above: Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YAIGA) organising for change programme, 2014)

Samson Itodo, Executive Director of Youth Initiative for Advocacy Growth and Advancement (YIAGA), explained the contribution young people can make to political life in Nigeria.

WFD will support YIAGA as it seeks legislative reform to the constitution that currently blocks 60% of the population under the age of 35 from participating in political life, whilst sharing the UK political party experience of engaging with young people through sister-party networks.

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you got involved in YIAGA?

YIAGA got started as a student discussion group in the University of Jos nine years ago. We all started meeting in each other’s rooms to discuss student unionism, human rights issues and how the school was intimidating the student union. We grew from that – promoting human rights to educate and enlighten students about their rights.

Over the last nine years the organisation has carved an image for itself as one of the leading CSOs working on youth. We have built a reputation for ourselves in that field as well as in elections, democracy and public accountability. Today we sit on several committees in the parliament and the electoral commission. And it might interest you to know that YIAGA is still led by young people under 35.

Why are young people so important for Nigeria’s future?

First and foremost, the point needs to be made that developed nations were able to tap into the resourcefulness of the productive workforce, which is the young population that make up 60% of population in Nigeria.
Young people – history and studies have shown – are energetic, skilful and resilient. These are the qualities developing countries like Nigeria need to tap into for development.

And secondly, the issue of inclusion. When you talk about inclusive government for democratic development you need to involve all of the critical stakeholders. If 60% of your population are young then they should actually have a say in the way their society is being governed, in how their resources are being used.

How involved are young people at the moment in Nigeria – what outlets and channels exist for them to participate in political life?

We must look from two perceptions. There is formal political participation and then informal spheres. For the formal structures, of course you’ve got voting at elections. You’ve also got youth institutions like the national youth council and the Nigerian Youth Parliament. There are also young people who are used as election officials by the Electoral Commission.

But within the political parties we have noticed a low turnout of young people as candidates and this is related to the lack of internal party democracy, the increasing cost of politics and running for office in Nigeria, as well as legal factors.

The constitution excludes young people from actually running for office at a very young age. You have to be at least 40. This is unlike what you have in the UK, with an alignment between the voting age and the age of being a candidate. In Nigeria, you have to wait to be a certain age before you can run for office and that is completely undemocratic.

Why do you think these attitudes exist towards young people in Nigeria?

The Constitution was introduced in 1979 following military intervention and decided by the constitution drafting committee, who thought that young people are too adventurous and can be too destabilising if not properly monitored.

Young people have been organising at different levels since then. There are different social political movements across the country advocating for constitutional amendments. One of the most successful campaigns ongoing in Nigeria is the #NotTooYoungToRun campaign – a local campaign that aims to increase the number of young people running for office.

Our political parties have contributed to excluding young people from the political process through party constitutions, party guidelines and the selection of delegates for party congresses. And what has worsened the situation is the fact that the youth engaged in the political parties do not have youth wings or caucuses to represent them.

(Above: #NotTooYoungToRun campaign)

Are young people eager to get involved in politics in Nigeria?

Yes, there is an appetite for young people to get involved despite the argument that political engagement is not interesting for them. Politicians think young people are too adventurous, and that they care too much about fashion, music and entertainment than governance, but that is not the case.

There is a huge appetite amongst young people who want to run for office, but how can they run for office when the constitution excludes them? How can they run for office when they are economically disadvantaged? The stereotypes have been institutionalised and learning is needed if the space is to be opened up for young people.

Capacity is also an issue. We look at our education system: What kind of subjects, what’s in the curriculum, do we have state education? There are a lot of issues that will need to be addressed if we want to increase the participation of young people in the political process.

How do you hope the programme with WFD will help contribute to greater participation of young people in politics in Nigeria?

There is the need to build very strong partnerships between youth and political parties, including those who are not members. Strengthening their advocacy skills and supporting party reforms to open up the space for young people to get involved is central. We need to engage the youth leaders of political parties and build their capacity to strengthen youth engagement. Political parties do not have structured party programmes that are targeted at building youth leadership. Parties do not improve young people’s capacity for advocacy, political organising or even on standard governance issues of how to participate. So those platforms will need to be created and the political parties can actually help these platforms.

By looking at good practices elsewhere we can learn from them. Promoting cross-cultural engagement or peer learning is a key tool that can help close the knowledge and capacity gap. It would be nice to learn how young people are organising in political parties in the UK, as well as what is also happening in Nigeria.

Experience-sharing has proven to be one of the fastest ways young people can learn, because they learn from the practical experience of their peers who have actually gone through the murky waters of politics and have succeeded, and learnt from the challenges of their experience in office. So, for young people who want to run in 2019, they will learn from this experience and ensure that they structure their campaign well enough to help them secure the needed votes..

You mentioned earlier that the Government’s perception of young people is that they are only interested in fashion and music – can focusing on the issues that are important across Nigeria show that young people have the ability to succeed politically?

Yes, absolutely. But check the social media use in Nigeria. Today young people are asking questions on social media platforms and asking their elected representatives critical political and governance questions.. There is a new paradigm with state actors and public officials today, who have used social media for getting policy and feedback for the Government.

We can use music to talk to young people about issues of our governance. And young people can also use music to contribute to democratic development or even public accountability. The point must remain that young people as a social category have a way of doing stuff. We have our own language, the way we dress – some will continue to use the tools that we have to propagate our own message, mobilise our peers, engage the government and make them listen, whilst also creating platforms where government can interact with young people on policy related issues. That is very key.

You have a big task ahead of you – what are the key challenges you will face?

The first challenge will be access to data. Ours is a country that has no privatised data, we have no data. Because this programme is hoping to be cascaded at the state level and not just the national level, we are looking at local communities as well. That will require data from all different levels about who is active in politics.

The second issue will be the political climate and the political parties. Working with parties who are floored with leadership crisis will make it very difficult to actually coordinate. That is one of the traps. Identifying young people as the key beneficiaries of the project is something that will take time.

The level of funding and the frequency, as well as the time frame for delivery can also constitute a challenge. But my sense will be that within the limited resources available we will have a maximum impact.

Sam, thanks very much for talking to us.

No problem.

Continue Reading

Case study: Protecting Punjab women from domestic violence

“Domestic violence is a big issue in the Punjab, but there hasn’t been a law on it until now,” says Mrs Mumtaz Mughal, Resident Director of the Aurat  Foundation. “So when women go to the police station they are told to go back to their home and accept the violence.”

With over 9,000 reported cases in Punjab province every year, civil society organisations had been unsuccessfully campaigning for legislation covering domestic violence for a decade. “At the provincial level there was a lack of political will on women-related legislation,” Summaya Yousaf of women’s rights group Bedari explains. “We didn’t have the knowledge or the capacity to understand the Assembly and conduct really effective lobbying.”

Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) was able to assist by giving women’s rights groups access to the Provincial Assembly of Punjab for the first time. Instead of focusing on the Assembly’s small women’s caucus, civil society organisations were given the opportunity to engage with its male parliamentarians, allowing groups like the Aurat Foundation to lobby more effectively for specific, targeted legislation. Standing committees were engaged, particularly the Assembly’s social welfare and gender mainstreaming committees. Relationships were also brokered with the Assembly’s secretariat, including the Speaker’s office and legislation branch.

“We thank the Westminster Foundation,” Mrs Mughal says. “They provided a full avenue to build linkages to the secretariat, changing the civil society approach to build a close link to the Assembly and change our engagement strategy.”

Together the CSOs, with technical assistance from WFD, put forwards a draft bill. At this stage the relationships cultivated by the Aurat Foundation and its allies became critical. Some MPAs examining the bill closely in standing committee were concerned that a provision which allowed uniformed police officers to enter the homes of at-risk women could breach privacy. Mrs Mughal was invited by the committee to give expert advice– a rare event, as external experts are not usually consulted at this stage of the legislative process in Punjab.

Mrs Mughal argued that women’s security was paramount. “We guided our members that this is not the issue of privacy because the state is responsible for the scrutiny and safety of any human being,” she recalls. “We asked them that a woman protection officer – not uniformed – can have the authority to go to the home.” This amendment was accepted and formed part of the bill, which eventually passed into law on 29 February 2016.

This was a big moment for all the civil society organisations who had campaigned for the law for so many years. “Legislation is the first step towards a just society,” Ms Yousaf says. “The law itself is a long-term process, but it makes clear that if you hit or slap or control your wife or your daughter or your sister then you will be punished.”

Mrs Mughal recalls sitting in the Speaker’s Office with other CSO members and WFD’s Country Representative as the Punjab Protection of Women Against Violence Act 2015 became law. It covers a range of offences, from stalking and cybercrime to emotional, economic and psychological abuse, and provides for the implementation of residence, protection and monetary court orders to protect women. “I was very happy and we were able to celebrate a big achievement,” Mrs Mughal says. “We were thankful – but also aware there are still a number of challenges for us.”

Securing budgetary allocations for the construction of Violence Against Women Centres across Punjab’s 36 districts is set to be particularly challenging; each costs more than 400 million rupees (£2.9 million). State funding has already been released for one district in South Punjab, which will act as a pilot scheme as part of the Act’s phased implementation. But as the Aurat Foundation and other organisations continue to campaign on behalf of women facing domestic violence, they will use the relationships they have established with politicians in the province’s Assembly.

“We need to be selective in the issues we put forwards to the Assembly,” Ms Yousaf says. “We’ve learned we cannot find the solution to issues in isolation: sometimes we need the support of Assembly members, and sometimes they need our support to be briefed on issues. We complement each other’s work.” The Domestic Violence Act is a result of that engagement – civil society and Assembly members brought together by WFD. As this continues it will lead to “good governance”, Ms Yousaf says.

That is WFD’s aim in Pakistan, a country on the path to an inclusive democracy after 2013 saw the first ever transition of power between civilian governments at the federal level. By working to create effective provincial assemblies that apply checks and balance on the federal state, Pakistan can build strong parliamentary systems which benefit all citizens. WFD seeks to support this by helping the provincial assemblies generate better policy and represent groups of citizens – including women – more effectively.

In the meantime, vulnerable women’s lives are set to benefit from this engagement. As the focus turns to implementation of the new law, Mrs Mughal hopes progress can be made quickly so that those facing abuse “can live in a violence-free environment in her home”.

Continue Reading

Blog: Parliaments must defend civil society space

Anthony Smith, WFD CEO, blogs following his participation in a Foreign Office event marking International Day of Democracy.

You won’t be surprised to know that International Democracy Day is a highlight of my annual calendar.

This year, I joined a room full of fellow democracy enthusiasts talking about democracy and human rights with the Foreign Office Minister for Human Rights, Baroness Anelay. There were some common themes.  Four of us mentioned the fall of the Berlin Wall – perhaps not surprising considering the visceral, unforgettable images of that symbol of oppression falling under what felt like a wave of freedom.  That moment was one of the triggers that led to WFD’s establishment.  I discovered recently that my sister-in-law was responsible for getting the first film footage of protests in Dresden out of East Germany and flew by Concorde to get it to the ABC News studios to broadcast in October 1989.

Another common theme was Churchill’s famous comment that democracy is the worst form of government except for all the others, which two of us mentioned.  For me, that quote symbolises the unique capacity of democratic systems to prevent the abuse of power by the executive. That task is just as important now as it was when WFD was founded 24 years ago and indeed, as Sir Jeffrey Jowell said in our meeting, as important as during the Roman Empire when Lucretius famously asked, who will guard the guardians?  Only the people can do that.  The other quote that I mentioned yesterday was by Cyril Ramaphosa who said that democracy allows people to live up to their potential.  So as well as preventing abuse of power, democracy enables people to live fulfilling lives in which they are represented fairly and treated with respect.  What a great combination.

The issue that came up most yesterday was the action being taken in a large number of countries to restrict the ability of civil society to operated freely and openly, not least when defending human rights.  WFD has seen this happen or threatened in many of the countries that we operate in.  Our own work has sometimes been affected by this closing of civil society space.  Parliament needs to play a role in pushing back against such measures, not least when they are introduced through legislation.  We need to help parliaments be aware of the pitfalls of such measures and the impact on human rights.  Of course legislation on NGOs is often needed and there are good examples of responsible legislation available from many countries.  An effective parliament should be reviewing draft legislation carefully to check that it meets this standard.

Finally, there was a certain irony in the fact that our meeting was held in the old India Office Council Chamber, from which a small group of Brits controlled the affairs of what, even then, was one of the biggest countries in the world. If the gents in the portraits on the walls could see India now I hope they would smile at the fact that it has become the largest democracy in the world.

 

Continue Reading

Lobbying for change: WFD’s support to human rights CSOs in Macedonia

(Above: WFD’s opening public event held in Skopje, Macedonia)

“By deconstructing the myth that marriages under 18 years old are part of the Roma tradition, we want to ensure the realisation of children’s rights and encourage institutions to follow the trend, as well as provide legal protection to the families in risk,” says Nesime Salioska, the Executive Director at ROMA S.O.S, one of the 12 civil society organisations Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) is working with in Macedonia.

From patients with rare diseases to the issue of child marriage amongst the Roma community, WFD’s programme in Macedonia is set to support a wide range of civil society organisations tackling different human rights issues. WFD will support the CSOs by building their capacity to engage with decision-makers in Macedonia, encouraging a dialogue on human rights based on research and evidence.

Conducting research – how to engage decision-makers

The programme, which brings together 12 civil society organisations in Macedonia, delivered its first training explaining the best way for the CSOs to conduct effective research and present it to parliament through a policy paper.

“We now have the knowledge, skills and support provided by the mentors to conduct this research, discover the challenges and best practices, and prioritise accordingly,” says Anja Bosilkova, Vice President from Wilson Macedonia, a support group for patients suffering from the rare disease. Her organisation is advocating for the government to introduce changes to existing legislation on health care, insurance, medicines and medical devices.

“Then we will be able to propose adequate solutions to the most pressing issues first, such as having proper diagnostic procedures available for early diagnosis.” Anja says that WFD’s first training in May 2016 helped her approach the challenge in an effective way. She explains: “As patients, we know our problems, but in order to find out the major issues for most of the patients, and translate it into policy paper, we need support to go through this process.”

Nesime Salioska believes her CSO has benefited because the training’s focus on evidence and research “could change negative perceptions and attitudes toward this issue in Roma communities”. She adds: “We gained capacity and knowledge which will enable us to bring evidence and raise the interest of different stakeholders to join our efforts.” This enables her and her colleagues to explain, using evidence, why Roma communities should be protected through legislation.

(Above: Anja Bosilkova-Antovska, representing Wilson Macedonia at the WFD opening public event)

Elena Nakova is a lawyer who volunteers at Free Software Macedonia, another CSO benefiting from WFD’s support. Its campaign aims to improve the privacy of citizens’ personal data following the abuses of voter list information during the political crisis. She said she felt the training was helpful in outlining the stages a CSO should work through when presenting information to parliament. “The training held at the School of Journalism and Public Relations helped us define certain aspects, such as the stakeholders and the need to make interviews with them in addition to the desk research in order to obtain valid information,” she said.

Legislative change – protecting citizens’ human rights

But, how does improving the ability of CSOs to conduct research help improve citizens’ human rights in Macedonia? Legislative change is the ultimate goal of WFD’s support.

For Elena Nakova of Free Software Macedonia that means they “want to see real change and work hard so that Macedonian citizens obtain better protection of their personal data.” She continues: “The problems that occurred during the political crisis and the handling of the voter list drew our attention and we knew that an urgent reform to the Law on personal identification numbers is needed. We were already familiar with the Croatian model and we made draft provisions that should be included in the new Law.” This is a significant change which, if achieved, would protect Macedonian’s citizen’s privacy and personal data.

(Above: Elena Nakova, representing Free Software Macedonia)

Anja from Wilson Macedonia is also focused on changing the law because she believes “long-term solutions are a necessity for a proper, institutionalised approach to the treatment of rare diseases in Macedonia. Recognising rare disease patients as a separate group with specific health needs and introducing the necessary legislative changes in health protection will make a real difference to the lives of this marginalized group. This is what we aim to do,” she said.

The importance of legislative change also applies to ROMA S.O.S. “The issue is related to children who are not mature enough to make decisions independently, so the state is the one that through legal regulations and acts of the institutions should protect them within the frames of established norms for the rights of the children and their best interests,” Nesime Salioska says.

ROMA SOS hope to overcome this issue “by undertaking mainstream activities that contribute to the improvement of Roma’s comprehensive integration in the context of human rights and to the concept of equality for citizens, no matter the status or belonging to which group”.

By providing training around the key principles of evidence, advocacy and access, WFD is set to support Macedonian CSOs to deliver change to citizens’ lives through their improved lobbying of parliament. It’s not just these three CSOs which will benefit, either: this programme supports 12 CSOs covering a range of issues from discrimination in higher education to sanctions against hate speech.

WFD’s ambition is for these CSOs to be standard-bearers for a new way of engaging with parliament; successful results for these initiatives will encourage others to adopt the same practices. That can only make Macedonia’s democracy stronger. Doing so will help the effectiveness of the parliament in its efforts to achieve better policy on human rights issues. It will also improve representation of the marginalised groups of citizens set to benefit – both important ingredients in making Macedonia’s governance more inclusive and effective.

(Below: Daniela Cvetanoska , representing ROMA S.O.S, also participated in the WFD training)
Continue Reading