Defend Defenders Convenes A Civic Space Workshop To Strengthen The Capacity Of Civil Society To Engage With Stakeholders And State Actors

Participants At the Regional Civic Space Workshop Held At Double Tree By Hilton Hotel, Nairobi, Kenya 20 – 23 August 2023

As part of Goal 16 of Sustainable Development Goals, governments commit to building “responsive, inclusive, participatory and representative decision-making at all levels” and promise to “ensure public access to information and protect fundamental freedoms, in accordance with national legislation and international agreements. Fundamental rights such as freedom of assembly, expression and information provide an enabling environment for civil society to play a key role in contributing to the development agenda and fulfilling the commitment to “leave no one behind”. A vibrant civil society require an open, secure, and safe environment that is free from all acts of intimidation, harassment, and reprisals, whether online or offline. States shape the legal and policy space within which people express views, assemble, associate, and engage in dialogue with one another and with authorities about issues that affect their lives, from the quality of basic services to better institutions and respect for fundamental freedoms. Civil society actors – including human rights defenders, women advocate, children, young people, members of minorities and indigenous people, trade unionists and journalists – should be able to express themselves freely in full security and effect change peacefully and effectively.

Additionally, under Goal 17, the target is to “encourage and promote effective public, public-private, and civil society partnerships.” The closure of civic space therefore puts the progress toward these goals at risk by preventing a meaningful participation of civil society in decision-making. Civic space is the environment that enables people and groups – or “civic space actors” – to participate meaningfully in the political, economic, social, and cultural life of their societies. Civic space relies on formal and informal channels through which individuals and groups can play a role in policymaking and contribute to decision-making, political, and peacebuilding processes. These require mechanisms that allow effective access to information, dialogue, and the expression of dissenting and unpopular views.

INERELA + Executive Director Munya Mandipaza was in attendance at the Civic Space work workshop together with participants from Childline, MIET Africa, PACJA, SAPST, Sonke Gender Justice, REPPSSI, Eastern Africa Child Rights Network, Child Rights Network of Southern Africa, Africa Disability Policy Forum and SAVE The Children International. The workshop was hosted by African Defenders/DefendDefenders. The host believes that increasing the levels of trust and cooperation between civil society, state actors, and other relevant stakeholders; or strengthening the capacity of civil society and/or state actors to engage in multistakeholder dialogue related to civic space is important and the shrinking space phenomenon cannot be addressed effectively, in isolation.

The overall objective of the workshop was to understand how to build voices to engage at multiple levels with key officials, strengthen networks and peer connections, building on existing Civil Society Organisation networks as well as mutual learning and defining synergy of action.

The aim of this workshop was to bring together representatives of Save the Children Regional Programme Unit and their partners under the SIDA Civil Society Strengthening Project to cross-pollinate experiences and practically share a common understanding of how to effectively monitor and document issues related to civic space as well as taking action.

Conversation during this workshop focused on:

  • How to build effective and powerful alliances in the context of civic space
  • How to document shrinking civic space to provide evidence of shrinking civic space to inform evidenced based advocacy.
  • Monitoring and tracking the legal enabling environment and challenges arising from measurement of civic space.
  • Meaning of shrinking space to Civil Society.
  • Lessons learnt from successful and unsuccessful initiatives.

Participants learnt from each other on how best to defend citizens’ rights to participate in shaping their societies as well as on how to build a mechanism of solidarity in specific situations of local or national oppression in the context of civic space.

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