ISSUE 0: FRAMEWORK CONDITIONS FOR CIVIL SOCIETY
The Civil Society Strategy stresses how the scope for participation in development work is often determined by national legislation and regulations, while constructive interaction between state and civil society is highlighted as a positive value. The Strategy affirms that Denmark will work for improved framework conditions for civil society. It will often be hard for an individual organisation to make its mark to this effect, but it is important to continuously assess the trends in framework conditions.
Internationally, the issue of anti-terror legislation constraining civil society action, for example by limiting freedoms of association and expression, has been in the public eye in recent years. The worldwide civil society network CIVICUS points out how the UN Security Council Resolution 1373 has been used illegitimately as a pretext for cracking down on many organisations across the globe, and to tighten national legislation affecting civil society. In this sense, the past decade contrasts with the 1990s, when many countries experienced marked improvements in conditions for civil society.
In addition to attacks on freedoms rationalised as measures against terrorism, CIVICUS identify the international economic crisis over the past couple of years as a reason why the work with poor people’s rights has become more of an uphill struggle, given that governments have fewer resources to meet basic needs.
The three questions under this issue concern:
- Changes in framework conditions and how they affect partner organisations
- Partner organisations’ efforts to exert influence on framework conditions
- Cooperation between partner organisations aimed at improving framework conditions
Under this issue, a total of 39 responses have been submitted by 32 different organisations, roughly divided equally between the three questions. In a few developing countries, conditions for civil society support are so testing that the Danish organisations have refrained from reporting on their experiences in this year’s report in order to spare their local partner, since publicity about this might be enough to jeopardise the partnership and the partner organisation’s survival.
Moreover, the next section sums up the submissions from Danish embassies in developing countries, which have, for the first time this year, reported on overall trends in the various areas of the Civil Society Strategy.
2. SUMMING UP THE RESPONSES
2.1 REPORTING FROM DANISH EMBASSIES
Reporting from the Danish embassies paints a mixed picture. The focus is often on the general legislative framework for registration of organisations and the like, as well as on the factors that help or hinder civil society’s participation in relevant political processes. Roughly half the embassy reports estimate that framework conditions have improved over the past year, while a similar number find the situation to be unchanged. In only one case is a deteriorating outlook reported. The material from the embassies covers an array of organisations, ranging from human rights groups through actual development organisations to more informal groupings. However, it mostly centres on conditions for formally constituted organisations and on changes in national legislation for civil society. The vast majority of embassy reports focus on opportunities for ongoing dialogue between national authorities and civil society organisations, as well as on the latter’s role in democratisation processes, but there are also examples of how civil society has come under pressure. Some embassies point out that many organisations depend on foreign funding, and that their capacity varies greatly.
2.2 CHANGES IN FRAMEWORK CONDITIONS
Danmission, ADRA Denmark, Danish Red Cross, Caritas Denmark, Danish Association for the Disabled, Forests of the World, CARE Denmark, Disabled People’s Organisations Denmark and Danish Mission Council Development Department all stress how overall political developments impinge on civil society’s room for manoeuvre and working conditions. Thus, the Danish Red Cross mentions how the run-up to elections in Myanmar brought insecurity and intense scrutiny of civil society by the government, which would not risk any deviation from its carefully prepared script. Similarly, Danmission underlines how sweeping changes in Egypt’s political system led the authorities to call off planned cooperation with partners both at home and abroad. Caritas Denmark reports from Niger, in connection with the president’s proposal for a new election law, that its partner, the human rights organisation Association Nigerienne pour la Défense des Droits de l’Homme, has had to strike a balance between, on the one hand, informing the population about violations of the constitution and, on the other, not giving the impression of being a branch of the opposition parties.
In some situations, the government restricts the organisations’ accustomed field of work by taking over their tasks with the expectation of enhancing its own legitimacy among the people. International Child Solidarity recounts how the Government of Nicaragua wanted to be in charge of literacy campaigning, which led the organisation and its partner to focus on measures to keep pupils at school instead by setting up homework clubs. Subsequently, the authorities decided that private entities should henceforth be banned from schools, which prompted greater cooperation with local neighbourhood councils. This has deepened roots in the community, but at the same time, it has weakened cooperation with the local school and with the teachers, thus making the development activities less sustainable.
Legislation on the work of civil society organisations is at the heart of framework conditions. CIVICUS emphasises how new laws and regulations in several countries aim to chart a narrow path for civil society’s participation in the public debate, for instance prior to parliamentary elections. Meanwhile, in the registration of civil society organisations, some authorities arrogate far-reaching powers to limit the organisations’ field of work in line with the government’s wishes. Such rules amount to a restriction on the freedom of association by providing rulers with ample margin for closing down or outright banning an organisation. Ghana Friendship Groups in Denmark is generally positive about the scope for popular participation and organisation in Ghana. Thus far, civil society organisations’ work has not been subject to any legal regulation as such, but a new legislative bill proposes that all organisations must be registered in the future, which many civil society actors view as encroaching on their autonomy. At the national level, a constitutional reform process in 2010 gave rise to positive experiences of how to involve civil society. Ghana Friendship Groups in Denmark stresses that, while the authorities tend to favour cooperation with organisations delivering services to local people, they are more reluctant to engage with rights-based organisations. Similarly, CARE Denmark reports from Nepal how the government is increasingly critical of organisations working with a right-based approach, whereas it tends to pay too little heed to those that deliver services. Danish Red Cross narrates its experiences in Myanmar and Eritrea, where conditions for civil society are extraordinarily restrictive. In Eritrea, this makes compromises inevitable, and often involves rather close cooperation with local and national authorities. In both countries, it becomes a priority in its own right to maintain a presence in communities where the national partner of the Danish Red Cross might well be the only actor offering poor and vulnerable population groups access to health services, which no other public or private entity is capable of delivering.
CIVICUS points to several cases in which national governments have referred to the Paris Declaration and Accra Agenda for Action (see the section on Issue no. 2) to justify limiting civil society organisations’ access to foreign funding, despite the fact that the Accra Agenda for Action highlights civil society’s central role in aid effectiveness.
2.3 PARTNER ORGANISATIONS’ EFFORTS TO EXERT INFLUENCE ON FRAMEWORK CONDITIONS
Changes in framework conditions may demand corresponding adjustment of planned activities. After the coup d’état in Honduras in 2009, the United Federation of Danish Workers (3F) decided – following discussions with its partners – to add a component of democracy and advocacy in all projects in order to strengthen the role of the trade union movement in the struggle over the country’s constitution. 3F has also cofounded a network of Danish organisations working in Honduras, joining forces to have funds channelled towards the protection of civil society leaders, after they came under threat from a repressive government.
IBIS, CARE Denmark, Save the Children Denmark and Danish Committee for Aid to Afghan Refugees report how partners are supported in connection with the drafting of new legislation. In Bangladesh, Save the Children has supported the network ’Together Working with Children’, which has advocated, since 2005, for the legal abolition of child labour. This effort encompassed support for in-service training of staff from the Ministry of Labour, study trips to neighbouring countries, and new set-ups to secure the involvement of a wider circle of stakeholders. After an extensive process, the government decided to back enactment of the bill in 2010, and the network is currently supporting the preparation of a national action plan. This course of events has led to broad recognition of civil society organisations’ role in the legislative process.
In Vietnam, CARE Denmark is supporting advocacy to influence the design of new laws concerning the cooperative movement. Once again, it has been vital to widen the legislative process to make it more open and inclusive. In Ghana, IBIS has exhorted its partners to utilise the constitutional reform effort to gain influence on the political process, and has supported nine of its partners in joining forces to approach the country’s Constitution Review Commission. The assistance covered both the actual consultation process among the partners, the summing up of the miscellany of suggestions into a joint proposal, as well as training in how such a shared platform might best be advanced.
The Danish Youth Council has spent some of its mini-programme funds on supporting a long-term process aimed at gaining recognition for Save the Children Denmark Youth’s partner in Rwanda as an equal stakeholder among other civil society organisations in the country. The approach taken was highly gradual, starting with various aspects of organisational development to make the work more efficient. The next step is for local authorities to recognise the organisation, since this is an important precondition for applying for official registration, thus building a foundation for improving the lot of Rwanda’s young people.
Likewise in Tanzania, Agricultural Development Denmark Asia has made a crucial point of supporting the partner’s contact with district bodies as a precondition for improving farmers’ living conditions. As Tanzania’s decentralisation programme has devolved significant decision-making powers away from ministries in the capital, it is important to ensure that civil servants and other decision-makers at the district level involve representatives of local farmers. This intervention has also provided support for organisational development to turn these local civil society organisations into respected community actors.
WWF World Wide Fund for Nature recounts how improved framework conditions for civil society organisations dedicated to natural resource management has led to cross-border cooperation, in this case to ensure civil society’s access to influence on regional fishing negotiations. Based on the WWF’s Coastal East Africa Initiative, support has been given towards setting up a Civil Society Forum for Sustainable Fishing Management in the Western Indian Ocean. Financial assistance has been accompanied by professional and methodological advisory services.
Cooperation between international organisations and local civil society organisations can, in some contexts, create new opportunities for local organisations. Thus, the Danish Association of the Blind reports how its partnership with the Mongolian Federation of the Blind is the sole example of cooperation between a Mongolian and a foreign disability organisation, which has, incidentally, positioned the partner as the strongest disability organisation in the country. Conversely, the Danish Mission Council Development Department recounts how the Ethiopian authorities both restrict foreign organisations’ field of work and lay obstacles in the way of partnerships between local civil society organisations and international organisations.
2.4 COOPERATION BETWEEN PARTNER ORGANISATIONS FOR IMPROVED FRAMEWORK CONDITIONS
Effective intervention to address framework conditions often requires cooperation between many organisations.
The Danish Epilepsy Association, MS ActionAid Denmark, Mission East, FIC, LO-FTF Council and the International Medical Cooperation Committee together with their partners are engaged in the development of networks and umbrella organisations.
In Uganda, the Danish Epilepsy Association has supported its partner in taking part in local networking for disability organisations in those 25 districts, in which, by now, the organisation has established representation. Likewise, its partner organisation is networking at the national level regarding research and health policy. This enables the organisation to voice its own views, as well as to access information that can be shared with its constituency.
In Mozambique, MS ActionAid Denmark has supported the establishment of a province-based network in Inhambane.
One aim is to develop capacity among individual member organisations, another is to strengthen cooperation between organisations in order to occupy a position of strength vis-à-vis the provincial authorities. However, it is emphasised that the network has failed to deliver the expected results, because key actors have disregarded the network’s interests in order to favour
the development of their own organisations. Against this background, MS ActionAid Denmark identifies a number of challenges for civil society networks: a) Networks tend to be based on donor support instead of being driven by active grassroots.
As a consequence, they easily succumb to turning their own self-preservation into the primary concern and to serving as vehicles for personal agendas. b) Since it takes time to set up networks, and their immediate effects can be rather intangible, it is difficult for donors to assess whether they live up to expectations. This is exacerbated by international donors knowing that such processes are bound to be prolonged, which makes them arm themselves with patience in expecting concrete results. c) International organisations’ decision to (continue to) provide funds depends only partly on the results achieved, as their budgetary and strategic interests are also a factor.
Local civil society networks can also have a thematic foundation. In Ghana, the International Medical Cooperation Committee has helped build a local HIV/AIDS network. This is used as a basis for
joint activities, for example on the occasion of World Aids Day, and for purposes of advocacy. The network also offers courses for all member organisations. The International Medical Cooperation Committee stresses how the network enables weaker member organisations to tap into the knowledge and resources commanded by stronger member organisations.
Networks between local partners can set the stage for campaigns and rights-based work. Mission East illustrates this with its case from Armenia, where a national disability network has created a joint platform for advocacy on the rights of people with disabilities. Likewise, LO-FTF Council relates how networking between health sector trade unions in Guatemala has put the spotlight on the need for more public funds in this field.
The high number of responses addressing how framework conditions impinge on civil society highlights how the results of interventions are heavily influenced by factors which are beyond the individual organisation. At the same time, there is clearly vast variation between the many countries where Danish organisations have partners. Nevertheless, CIVICUS and many others point out that a consequence of deteriorating framework conditions is a shrinking of the space in which civil society organisations can act.
The examples submitted tend to focus on legislative aspects of the framework conditions, which is also the case of the reports from Danish embassies in developing countries. This covers regulations regarding registration and approval of organisations, as well as civil society’s efforts to influence legislative processes
in areas deemed to be of central significance to the plight of poor people. Conversely, there is little reporting on how Danish organisations have supported wider popular mobilisations and expressions.
Changes in framework conditions affect the Danish organisations’ opportunities for supporting partner organisations, and the material provides examples of how deteriorating framework conditions have provoked readjustments and, in some cases, imposed limitations on the support for partners.
The vast majority of submissions focus on circumstances within the individual developing country, while there is only one example of regional or wider international initiatives involving cooperation between civil society organisations from several countries.
- Much attention is devoted to legal and legislative aspects of the framework conditions, and within this sphere particularly to the inputs to political processes. It remains interesting to shed light on, for instance, the extent to which the authorities enforce more restrictive laws or respect more liberal ones in practice. Indeed, practical and bureaucratic constraints on the organisations’ day-to-day work and on their scope for pursuing their own agendas are likely to play a role in defining their room for manoeuvre that is just as decisive as national legislation.
- With a few exceptions, the responses do not discuss more general factors of great importance to framework conditions, such as freedom of association and expression, or human rights violations in terms of persecution and incarceration of civil society activists, which might warrant more attention in future reporting. It would also be interesting to look into how looser groupings in civil society (such as the informal networks which arose to spearhead ’the Arab Spring’) interact with more established organisations, which make up the lion’s share of Danish organisations’ partners. There are reasons to presume that there are major disparities in framework conditions depending on whether civil society organisations are rural or capital-city-based national organisations. Differences and similarities in this regard have not been subject to close scrutiny.
- A recurrent characteristic of most narratives is that cooperation between many organisations is a precondition for addressing framework conditions. Many organisations prefer the method of setting up and developing networks. Further reflection on the strengths and limitations of the networking modality would be instructive for all actors.
- Regional aspects are also underreported. Going forward, it would be interesting to look into whether national authorities tighten civil society legislation with reference to similar actions by their colleagues in neighbouring countries, as CIVICUS stresses, though this assertion does not feature in the responses of the Danish organisations. Conversely, it might be asked whether national civil society organisations have benefited from the experiences of and from joint campaigning with like-minded organisations in neighbouring countries.
This page forms part of the publication 'Danish organisations’ cross-cutting monitoring of the implementation of the Civil Society Strategy, 2010' as chapter 3 of 17
Version 1.0. 11-12-2011
Publication may be found at the address http://www.netpublikationer.dk/um/11104/index.htm