Democracy is fundamentally about engaging people in the decisions that impact on their lives.
The ability of citizens to interact with political institutions is critical to the future of democratic systems.
While parliaments and political parties are important for effective democracy, increasingly civil society organisations (CSOs) provide an alternative channel to engage constructively with government to ensure adequate services are provided and evidence-based policies are adopted.
Civil society organisations (CSOs) are independent from the state, not-for-profit, and often rely on volunteers from their communities. They range from small community-based organisations to larger non-governmental organisations and often campaign and advocate for improvements to human rights.
Engagement with civil society is an element of many WFD political party and parliamentary programmes. We look for opportunities to support civil society capacity by helping to ensure an enabling environment exists for civil society to operate effectively in and provide relevant skills training as well as technical assistance to organisations.
Ultimately, effective civil society organisations help build inclusive societies and accountability in political systems.
The notion that policy and laws should be based on evidence is not new, but in many parts of the world the practice of producing evidence-based policy can be improved. At WFD, we share ways in which UK civil society engage with parliaments and political parties to influence policy and legislation.
Developing policy papers based on evidence, presenting that information to relevant parliamentary committees and gaining media support are some ways in which we support civil society organisations. From we have supported changes to anti-terror legislation and the financial support families below the poverty line receive, as well as engaging local disability organisations on an agenda for change and promoting transparency within the oil and gas sector.
Restricting how CSOs function is a global phenomenon and a concerning trend identified in democracies as well as authoritarian regimes.
The WFD research programme, looked at how this phenomenon plays out on the global and regional level.
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.
WFD has recently developed a new tool – “Programming Guide on Civic Space: Addressing the global emergency of shrinking civic space and how to reclaim it” – specifically designed to help parliaments protect and promote the role civil society of in public life.
Additionally, as one of the leading members of the European Partnership for Democracy (EPD), WFD has been integral in developing EPD’s new Strategic Partnership Approach to Creating a Conducive Environment (SPACE) methodology, an innovative approach to examining the issue of closing civic space and how to counter it.
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