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Oxygen for civic power (PARTOS)

PARTOS’ refreshing point of view on building a thriving civil society

“We live in one of the few countries where fresh air for civil society is still plentiful, where it has space to organize, act and breathe”, said Bart Romijn, director of Partos, in his opening speech at the launch of Activism, artivism and beyond. Unfortunately, for many people in the world such oxygen supplies are dropping, making it difficult, sometimes impossible, to enjoy the freedoms necessary to build a thriving civil society.

We therefore felt it was high time to draw attention to the importance of such a healthy civil society. Below, you will find inspiring initiatives of civic power! To read the full article click here

Dropping oxygen levels and new spaces to breathe

One particularly interesting example is the website Love Matters, an online platform initiated by RNW Media that offers sexual health information to young people in societies where such information is not readily available. Abir Sarras, who is responsible for the Arabic edition of the platform, attended the book launch in The Hague to explain her project in more detail.

Her story testified to the fact that the battle over civic space is not taking place in a political or social vacuum – a point also made by Duncan Green in one of his recent blogs. First, cultural and religious norms are at work here; they are the reason Love Matters was created in the first place. Second, the emergence of new technologies is playing a key role. Thanks to the internet and social media, initiatives like Love Matters can exist, and provide endless opportunities for civil society to spread information, create safe spaces and mobilize people for civic action.

Such new opportunities however, also trigger new forms of regulation and attacks on civic freedoms. The Love Matters team for example, must constantly censor itself to avoid clashes with cultural norms and risk being shut down. They too must come up with creative ways around the obstacles that are put in their way.

For more information, also watch this video-interview with Abir Sarras.

Supporting civic power here and abroad

How can we learn from and better support creative actions such as those described in Activism, artivism and beyond? Given the different forms of threats and repression, the variety in oxygen levels for civil society, and the diverse forms of civic action and organization, a ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach will not do. Responses to pressures and measures to support civil society must be adjusted to the demands and needs of the given context and actors.

This implies that support should not be directed solely to established NGOs or CSOs, but also to more informal organizations, movements and grassroots initiatives. Moreover, as The Broker’s director Frans Bieckmann emphasized, support for civil society should no longer be embedded in the framework of development policies.

Supplying oxygen to civil society and safeguarding civic space requires a global and long-term effort from governments, NGOs and international bodies alike. Moreover, close cooperation and solidarity between people and organizations is needed if such efforts are to stand any chance of success. Activism, artivism and beyond tries to start building the bridges necessary to foster this solidarity by showing that people from all corners of the world share much more than might be apparent at first sight. They share creativity, energy and a common set of goals from which others can learn and take inspiration. So yes, civic space is threatened and in some areas oxygen levels are at a dramatic low. But at the same time we should not lose sight of the opportunities and initiatives that are out there.

Click activism-artivism-and-beyond to download the full report Activism, artivism and beyond. Inspiring initiatives of civic action.