CHILE: ‘Domestic and care work still falls overwhelmingly on women’
CIVICUS speaks about International Women’s Day and civil society’s role in combatting gender inequalities in Chile with Cecilia Ananías Soto, founder of Amaranta, an independent civil society organisation (CSO) based in the Chilean city of Concepción, in the Biobío region.
Amaranta is a feminist space made up of women from the social sciences, humanities and social activism aimed at promoting gender equality and human rights in the spheres of education, health, culture, technology and media. It was founded in early 2018 to give visibility and response to the everyday problems of women, and specifically lesbian, bisexual, transgender, working, migrant, displaced, poor and Indigenous women. Taking a critical, local and decolonial perspective, it carries out training, dialogue, research and advocacy work.
What impacts has the COVID-19 pandemic had on Chilean women and girls, and how has civil society responded to it?
The pandemic affected women and girls differentially and disproportionately. In the case of Chile, in the first year of the pandemic there was an explosive increase in requests for help for gender-based violence (GBV). This happened because, in the midst of mandatory quarantines, women and girls were locked in their homes together with their aggressors.
In addition, because there was no school for a long time and even kindergartens were closed, women were on their own to care for children and sick family members, often having to abandon their work and studies to support their households. Just before the pandemic, female participation in the labour market had reached an all-time high of 53.3 per cent, while after the pandemic it fell back to 41 per cent. It will take a long time to recover women’s participation in the labour force.
Faced with this scenario, women and women’s groups built support networks. At the neighbourhood level, women’s groups organised community kitchens and sales or exchange fairs, among other initiatives. Many women’s groups set up helplines because the official ones were not sufficient or did not always respond. Amaranta received hundreds of requests for help with GBV in digital spaces and, despite having a small team, contributed by providing initial support and communicating basic self-care strategies.
The pandemic forced us to move much of our work into the digital sphere. On the one hand, this allowed us to continue working, to do so safely and to reach much further. But on the other hand, not all people have access to the internet or digital literacy, so we had to find other strategies as well. Now we work by mixing face-to-face and distance gender education with educational and activist materials that we hand out in the streets, such as fanzines and stickers.
What are the main unresolved women’s rights issues in Chile?
A big problem is that domestic and care work still falls overwhelmingly on women. This has profound effects on women’s quality of life, because it results in them either abandoning their studies or leaving their jobs to do this unpaid work at home, or trying to become ‘superwomen’ who must be able to do everything, even if they can no longer take it because they so tired.
This was made clear in a report published in the magazine Revista Ya in late 2020, ‘An x-ray of the zero man‘, so titled because according to the study on which the article was based, 38 per cent of men spend zero hours a week doing housework. Similarly, 71 per cent spend zero hours helping their children with schoolwork and 57 per cent spend zero hours taking care of children. In contrast, the women surveyed spend 14 hours a week more than men caring for children under the age of 14.
Another major pending issue is that of sexual and reproductive rights. Our right to decide over our own bodies is still not recognised. Abortion is only permitted on three grounds: danger to the life of the pregnant woman, foetal malformations incompatible with life and when the pregnancy is the result of rape. At the same time, there are no comprehensive sex education programmes to prevent unwanted pregnancies, sexually transmitted diseases and sexual violence. During the pandemic, many instances of failure of oral hormonal contraceptives were documented. Many of these had been provided free of charge in public health facilities; as a result, many vulnerable women ended up pregnant, without being able to choose to have an abortion and without receiving any kind of monetary compensation.
What should be done to reduce gender inequality in Chile?
At Amaranta, we believe that we must start with non-sexist education, including comprehensive sex education. This is the only way to stop repeating stereotypes that perpetuate inequality from an early age. This is an important element in preventing GBV.
Laws and public policies that pave the way for a more equitable and inclusive society are also important. Since 2019, Chile has gone through multiple social protests, which have included the feminist movement in a very prominent role. As a result of these protests, we now find ourselves drafting a new constitution which, if approved, we already know will include gender-sensitive justice systems. This is a tremendous step forward for our country, and even a first at the continental level.
The International Women’s Day theme for 2022 is #BreakTheBias. How have you organised around it?
Our ongoing campaign as an organisation is about breaking down biases and overcoming prejudices and stereotypes. We do this through education, which can take many forms: from a relatively formal talk or workshop, to recommending a book or handing out a feminist fanzine, to disseminating content through a TikTok video.
In terms of mobilisation, we remain attentive to all calls from feminist organisations in the area and we will participate in women’s meetings, marches, bike rallies and ‘pañuelazos’ – that is, large gatherings of women wearing green scarves – that are being organised.
CHILE: ‘For the first time the extremes are inside the parliament and there are unacceptable undemocratic voices’
CIVICUS speaks with Alberto Precht, executive director of Chile Transparente, about Chile’s presidential elections and their persistent pattern of low electoral turnout. Founded 23 years ago, Chile Transparente is a civil society organisation (CSO) that promotes transparency in public and private institutions and the fight against corruption.
What have been the peculiarities of this electoral process?
There have been three recent votes in Chile: first, the national plebiscite held in October 2020, in which citizens were asked whether they wanted a new constitution and, if so, which body should be in charge of drafting it; then the elections of representatives to the constitutional convention in May 2021; and now, with the constitutional convention in place, the presidential elections, with the first round held on 21 November and the second round scheduled for 19 December.
These electoral processes have been quite peculiar because each of them has produced quite different results as measured on the left-right ideological axis. On the one hand, a progressive constitutional convention was elected, including a significant hardcore left-wing component. On the other, both in the primary elections and in the first round of the presidential election, a hardcore right-wing candidate, José Antonio Kast, won first place, followed by Gabriel Boric, a progressive candidate running in coalition with the Communist Party.
The political environment is quite polarised, but what is most striking is that between 50 per cent and 60 per cent of Chileans do not show up to vote. This makes the election results very uncertain. Moreover, whoever wins will do so with 13 or 14 per cent of all eligible voters. It is not surprising that there are usually wide currents of anti-government opinion, since the government never represents a majority.
Why do so few people vote?
It is paradoxical, because in the current context one would have expected a higher turnout. The 2021 election for the constitutional convention was the most important election since 1988, and turnout did not reach 50 per cent. The only vote that exceeded that threshold was the 2020 plebiscite, with a 51 per cent turnout, but that was different because it was a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ vote. This low turnout was striking, because although no one expected a 80 or 90 per cent turnout, as was the case in the historic 1988 plebiscite that said ‘no’ to the Pinochet dictatorship, turnout was expected to be closer to 60 per cent.
It is very likely that we will see even lower participation in the second round, even though there are two very clear and distinct options, which would hopefully motivate more people to vote.
In Chile there is a structural problem of low participation. In part, this has to do with the fact that voting is voluntary, but it also has to do with the fact that the political offer is not very attractive. Although the offer has changed a lot and the latest reform in the system used to elect parliamentarians has allowed for greater pluralism, this has not been enough to motivate people to vote. The latest elections have been a rollercoaster and therefore very hard to analyse; the only certainty we have is that at least 50 per cent of Chileans do not feel represented in the electoral system.
How could people be motivated to vote?
Some legal reforms are already being introduced to that effect. The national plebiscite that will take place in 2022, where people will say whether they agree with the new constitution, is going to be a mandatory vote. Additionally, the vote is going to be organised in a georeferenced way, so that people will be able to vote at a polling place within walking distance of their residence.
This is not a minor detail: in Chile, voting places are not assigned according to place of residence, so people, especially low-income people, must take a lot of public transport to get to the polls. Even though it doesn’t cost them money, because it’s free, they have to invest the whole day in going to vote, which many can’t do. These changes will increase participation rates, but it will be very difficult for Chile to reach 80 per cent participation in the short term.
The big questions that no one has been able to answer are who the people who don’t vote are and what they think. Between the constituent convention elections and the presidential election there seems to have been a turnover of voters. Younger voters showed up to vote in the constitutional convention elections, while older voters tended to participate more in the presidential election.
What role does Chile Transparente play in the electoral process?
Chile Transparente has a system of complaints and protection for victims and witnesses of corruption that has been receiving complaints of misuse of electoral funds. Today we are stuck with a very important controversy involving the candidate who came third in the first round of the presidential elections, Franco Parisi. He is a neo-populist candidate whose campaign has been funded in quite opaque ways.
We also work to motivate participation and have participated in observations of local electoral processes that had to be repeated. We receive the support of the European Union for a programme called Transparent Convention, which publicises the functioning of the constitutional convention, highlighting certain issues that might seem relatively opaque and that need to be brought to the public’s attention.
We are one of the few organisations in the country that are active in transparency and anti-corruption issues and we play a very important role alongside investigative journalists.
How are these elections influenced by the protest movement?
The election for the constitutional convention fed off the strength of the 2019 protests; in fact, at one point in the Constitutional Convention came to reflect the people who were protesting. But by the time of the presidential elections, held one year later, only the hangover from the protests remained, and the results were rather a reflection of the people who had suffered the effects and were against the protests.
We need to understand that the mobilisation process has not been purely romantic, but has been accompanied by a lot of violence. Between the pandemic and the protest violence, there are people who have not been able to reopen their businesses, who cannot go to work in peace, who have lost everything. At the same time, we obviously have a debt in terms of human rights violations.
These tensions were expressed at the polls, and we will surely have a heart-stopping second round, in which the competitors are a candidate who represents a hardcore right wing, quite different from the traditional right that has governed in recent years, and a candidate who has formed a coalition with the Communist Party, until now marginal in a political game that has rather gravitated towards the political centre.
What has happened to the established Chilean party system?
There is undoubtedly a weariness with the democracy of the last 30 years, regardless of all the progress the country has made. There are large sectors that believe the centrist consensus that characterised the transition to a so-called ‘democracy of agreements’, consisting of doing what was considered to be within the realm of the possible, does not provide solutions. This has led not only to a social outburst, but also to a conservative reaction. It is a textbook situation: every revolution is followed by a counter-revolution.
On top of this there is a problem of migration management, which has caused a huge electoral shift throughout the country, especially in the north. Chile used to vote for the left and now it voted for two candidates – one from the extreme right and a populist candidate – who proposed harsher measures against migration, such as the construction of border ditches or mass expulsion: nothing could be further from a culture of human rights.
At the same time, the left has lacked any self-criticism. It has not understood how important it is to respond to people’s concerns about insecurity and to attend to the victims of violence. When there is an outbreak of violence, violence victims will vote for those who offer them order. As is well known, in Chile there has long been a major conflict with the Indigenous Mapuche people. There is also conflict with non-Mapuche sectors, often linked to organised crime, who have taken violent action. In those areas, where one would expect a vote for the left, the complete opposite has happened. In certain localities where violence has become endemic, the conservative candidate has received up to 60 or 70 per cent of votes.
What would be the implications for civil society depending on which candidate wins in the second round?
A part of the more traditional press seeks to give the impression that if Boric wins, it will be the advent of communism, while another part claims that if Kast wins, he will take us back to the times of Pinochet. However, thanks to social media and new technologies, alternative media outlets have flourished in recent years. There are more pluralistic television channels and channels with quite diverse editorial lines, which have more nuanced views.
I believe that both alternatives entail risks, because both candidates include within their coalitions people or parties that seek to limit the space for civil society, that adhere to a narrative that the press is financed by international powers, that Chile Transparente serves certain mega-powers, and promote conspiracy theories. Let’s remember that the Communist Party candidate who lost the primary elections against Boric proposed an intervention in the media. For his part, Kast has the support of hardcore Pinochetist elements.
However, in the second round, the two candidates have moved towards the centre to capture the votes they need to win. The groups that followed former President Michelle Bachelet, who initially opposed Boric, are now working with him. On the other side of the spectrum, in order to attract segments of the liberal right, Kast also has had to moderate his discourse.
Perhaps hope lies in parliament acting as a regulator of the two extremes. It is a diverse parliament where no party will have a majority, so whoever gets to govern will have to do so in negotiation with parliament. At the same time, the constituent process, which is still underway, can produce a constitution of unity that would set the conditions for the new president to govern.
The problem is that for the first time the extremes are inside parliament and there are some voices that are unacceptable from a democratic point of view. For example, two deputies elected by the extreme right recently mocked an elected candidate who is transgender. Some not very encouraging positions on human rights have also been expressed by the left. For example, the Chilean Communist Party has just recognised Daniel Ortega as the legitimate president of Nicaragua and continues to recognise Nicolás Maduro in Venezuela.
Civic space in Chile is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
Get in touch with Chile Transparente through itswebsite or itsFacebook andInstagram profiles, and follow@Ch_Transparente and@albertoprechtr on Twitter.
CHILE: ‘The drafting of the new constitution is a historic opportunity for women’
CIVICUS speaks with Mariela Infante Erazo, director of Corporación Humanas, about the impacts of the pandemic on women and girls in Chile, and about her hopes for advances coming from the inauguration of a new government and the process to develop a new constitution.
Founded in 2004, Humanas is a civil society organisation (CSO) dedicated to advocating for the deepening of democracy and the inclusion of women.
What has been the impact of the pandemic on women and girls in Chile?
The pandemic has had a very serious impact on the human rights of girls and women. Women regressed more than a decade in terms of their labour market participation. When schools closed, they had to take on most of the domestic and care work, both for their children and for sick or older relatives, so many had to stop working. Those who continued to work – including by working from home – were overburdened, which had an impact on both their physical and mental health.
Gender-based violence also increased shockingly, as confinement and restrictions of movement were quite strict in Chile. According to official statistics, domestic violence calls from adult women tripled. But the situation also affected girls facing family abuse.
The most feminised fields of work, such as education and health, were the most in demand during the pandemic. Women are in the majority in the professions that fought the pandemic – nurses, health workers, service workers, educators – but were not given much recognition. Female educators had to undertake virtual teaching and this undermined learning, at least among economically and culturally disadvantaged people. In Chile, there is no universal access to a basic internet service, and this has been detrimental for access to education.
A full recovery is a long way off: unemployment remains high and women’s employment rates are not recovering at the same speed as men’s. A gendered approach is needed to ensure that women can return to the labour market and regain economic autonomy, which is key to exercising our rights.
How has civil society in general, and Humanas in particular, responded?
In the first months of the pandemic, and especially during lockdown, there were high levels of activity among feminist organisations: many seminars, meetings and discussions took place. There was a lot of reflection and an eagerness to share. But virtual interactions are very challenging and these spaces eventually ran out of steam: the first year’s participation was reasonably high, but then it began to decline. The format is now a bit worn out; I think we need to think of new forms of participation.
During these two years, we at Humanas have all been working from home, with the difficulties this sometimes entails for communication among co-workers. Opportunities for informal communication were lost and work slowed down. Regarding our outward work, we had to rethink workshops, seminars and training events, because it is very difficult to do interactive and motivating training sessions via computer. Of course we had to cancel all trips, which was limiting for our regional networking strategy.
But we learned a lot about how virtual interactions can replace face-to-face ones, and we adapted.
What are the main women’s rights issues in Chile?
As in the rest of Latin America, there are multiple challenges. In the field of employment, a major problem is precarious work: women have more precarious, informal and lower-paid jobs, as well as higher unemployment rates.
Women also bear the bulk of the burden of family care. This limits our free time, harms our health, limits our job prospects and hinders our political participation. That is why the feminist movement, of which we are part, prioritises the establishment of a national care system in Chile.
In terms of sexual and reproductive rights, abortion – which used to be prohibited in all circumstances – has been legal since 2017 under three grounds: when the life of the pregnant person is in danger, when the foetus suffers from malformations incompatible with life and when the pregnancy is the result of rape.
But during the pandemic, limitations on the exercise of sexual and reproductive rights increased: contraceptive distribution decreased, defective contraceptives were distributed through the public system and the number of preventative gynaecological examinations decreased. Many people stopped making medical consultations because health centres were overwhelmed by the number of COVID-19 cases, which left many pathologies undiagnosed and untreated.
Chile does not have a comprehensive law to prevent violence against women in various spheres and manifestations. There is a draft law on the subject that has not made any progress for many years. The number of femicides – and attempted femicides – is very high. Violence levels are very worrying, and they increased even further under lockdown during the pandemic.
In addition, Chile has become one of the main host countries for Venezuelan migrants and has adopted a restrictive policy towards migrants, refugees and asylum seekers, particularly women. As applying for a visa has become virtually impossible, people are entering Chile irregularly. This has led to an increase in human trafficking and smuggling, the main victims of which are women and girls.
Irregular migration has also had an impact on labour exploitation. Without documentation, many migrant women do not even dare to go to health centres for fear of being expelled from the country. According to the principles of the Cartagena Declaration, which establishes a broad definition of asylum, Venezuelan women should be considered subjects of international protection, as they are fleeing a law-and-order crisis. But they are not recognised as such and are denied labour and health rights, among many other rights.
Moreover, racism has increased along with xenophobia. Migrants of African descent, mainly from Colombia and Haiti, have experienced racism and xenophobia. The same is true for the Indigenous population. In the context of the territorial conflict with the Mapuche people in southern Chile, institutional and police violence have differentially affected Indigenous women, for instance during violent raids in their communities.
How is civil society working to bring these issues into the public agenda?
At the moment, the Constitutional Convention is the space through which we are channelling the feminist agenda. We have high expectations and are working so that the Convention will produce a general normative framework for the recognition of women’s rights, which will then have to be implemented through laws and public policies.
I believe the current Constitutional Convention is the first of its kind in the world, with gender parity and reserved seats. The Convention does not reflect the composition of the Chilean elite – white heterosexual men – but the real Chile: it includes Indigenous people, women and people of all educational levels and professions, rather than purely lawyers as is the case with parliament. This diversity of perspectives makes it incredibly rich.
The process of drafting a new constitution for Chile is a historic opportunity that we are trying to take advantage of to channel women’s rights issues. This process was the product of a massive social mobilisation demanding rights, justice and dignity. It embodies an institutional solution to the discontent and fragmentation of Chile’s social fabric.
After 40 years, today we have the possibility of reshaping a constitution made during the dictatorship, which does not guarantee social rights. We are only a few months away from having a draft that will be put up to a plebiscite, which is why this current process is for us a great political moment that entails the prospect of progress on women’s rights.
How could gender gaps and inequalities be reduced in Chile?
The pandemic exposed a care crisis that is structural. The private and domestic realm continues to be women’s responsibility, on top of which comes paid work. We want a paradigm shift establishing that this is a shared social responsibility, which should not fall exclusively on women. The creation of a national care system in which the state, the private sector and families – but whole families, not just women – take on family care could bring about a real transformation of the sexual division of labour.
Attention to the issue of care is a first step in advancing a structural issue such as the sexual division of labour: taking women out of a single role, valuing their roles and even generating new sources of work for women. We need a cross-cutting care paradigm that fosters bonds of respect and solidarity. This is of enormous importance: none of us would be here now if someone had not taken care of us.
The issue of care is also very relevant in relation to nature, water and the commons, if they are to serve to improve the quality of life for all people, rather than generate wealth for a few. What is important is that the focus be on the common good and not on extraction and accumulation. The current extractivist development model reproduces inequalities and is at the root of violence against women defenders of land and territory.
Feminism is currently taking a much more holistic perspective and is making alliances with other social movements. We are feminists, but we are connected with other worlds – those of environmentalism, Indigenous women, women defenders of land and territory – which makes us understand that inequalities and exclusions come from the intersection of various systems of domination: those of capitalism, colonialism and patriarchy. In order to generate a profound transformation, we must take a holistic view.
What are the expectations of Chilean feminists as a new government is inaugurated?
Our expectations are high but realistic, not excessive. We know that four years is a short time for so many challenges and we will not be able to transform everything in such a short time, but we believe that there is political will to move forward with laws on care, equality and non-discrimination, social rights, sexual and reproductive rights, and gender violence.
President Gabriel Boric, who took office on 11 March, self-identifies as a feminist. He has already given a positive signal by placing the Ministry of Women’s Affairs within his political cabinet, indicating that he does not understand gender as a sectoral issue; we hope that this will translate into real mainstreaming of the gender approach to permeate all policies.
The new government’s cabinet is more than gender-balanced: it includes more female than male ministers. Several of the ministers – those of women, justice and national assets – are feminists. This is more important than the fact that there are more women, because it will allow us to make important progress on our agenda.
We know that, as in the rest of Latin America, there are very difficult times ahead, with a looming economic crisis and very high inflation. We will have to face a process of life becoming more precarious, in a pandemic context that continues to be somewhat uncertain. We do not know how much of a ‘normal life’ we will be able to recover, nor what it will be like.
The new government will have to protect the work of the Convention, which is being heavily attacked and criticised by mainstream media, which rejects any redistribution of power. The new government will have to give the Convention budgetary and institutional support to continue its work. It will then receive the draft of the new constitution – which will apparently be quite transformative and will hopefully be ratified through a plebiscite – and will have to undertake the enormous task of gradually implementing parity norms in various spheres.
CHILE: ‘The million-dollar question is how society will react if a new constitution does not come out of this’
CIVICUS speaks about Chile’s impending constitutional referendum with Julieta Suárez Cao, PhD in Political Science and Associate Professor of Comparative Politics at the Catholic University of Chile. Julieta played a leading role in the design and promotion of an innovative electoral system that ensured a gender-parity outcome in the 2021 election for Chile’s Constitutional Convention, for which she received the American Political Science Association’s 2022 Public Engagement with Research Award.
What do you think have been the most novel elements of the Chilean constitutional process?
A novel element has been the formation of the Constitutional Convention itself. While in other parts of the world there had already been experiences such as reserving seats for Indigenous peoples and allowing non-party candidates, in Chile these two elements were combined with a third, gender parity. This had been implemented in Mexico City but had never been done at the national level.
Another novel element has to do with the fact that it this a change of constitution, not a simple reform. It is a profound change starting from scratch, without any kind of agreement having set parameters that determine what can and cannot be changed. The only predetermined things were three key procedures: the two-thirds rule for voting on the norms that would go in the constitution, the so-called entry plebiscite to enable the convening of a constitutional convention and the so-called exit plebiscite, meant to have the new constitution approved.
It is also worth noting that this is a constitutional change taking place in a democratic context, and not in a moment of transition. Although a response to the social and political crisis that Chile is going through, it has not been a hasty reaction to a fleeting situation; the discussion about constitutional reform started long before the 2019 social outburst. Former president Michelle Bachelet had already tried to carry it forward during her last term in office, from 2014 to 2018, but did not succeed. The right wing, which ruled the country under Sebastián Piñera over the following period, warned that it would shelve any constitutional reform initiative, and so it did – until the social outburst forced it to re-evaluate this position, given the need to channel social demands institutionally, by means of a constitution-making process.
What are the divides in the run-up to the 5 September plebiscite on the new constitution?
The way dividing lines have been drawn in the face of the constitutional plebiscite is very interesting. The Constitutional Convention has been extremely transparent, perhaps too transparent, because according to some literature, politics sometimes needs a certain opacity. This, on the other hand, became a sort of constitutional reality TV, a show that was broadcast every day, 24 hours a day. Clearly, the news that made it into the media tended to be about inconsequential and even ridiculous issues, so it did not represent what was really going on there. For example, one convention member proposed to dismantle all state institutions; of course, this never even made it out of the commission, but still made headlines for a long time. Such things created an adverse climate around the Convention, which I think affected the campaign.
Seen in perspective, it was a very dynamic process that in just one year managed to produce a full document for a new constitution. The process was a good one, even if it made public opinion focus on some absurd debates that were magnified by the media.
This climate of opinion ended up shaping two camps. On the one hand, the rejection camp, which includes not only the right wing, but also many centre-left personalities, including many current senators. These are people who have joined the rejection camp for several reasons, and not only because they do not agree with many of the proposed reforms.
In short, the rejection coalition ranges from the far right – which not only exists in Chile, but also reached the second round of the presidential election less than a year ago – to some individuals in the political centre. But it was the latter who became the visible face of the campaign against the constitution.
This has been the result of a good communications strategy that consisted in delegating spokespeople roles to moderate figures while keeping extremists out of sight. They have held almost no marches or public events, because in the run-up to the initial plebiscite such demonstrations included weapons, Nazi flags, swastikas and other images that provoke strong rejection.
For its part, the coalition in favour of the new constitution includes numerous former convention members, most of whom have campaigned in favour of it, deputies, senators and many popular artists. The government is not allowed to participate in the campaign or speak directly in favour of one or other option. For this reason, it only intervened by providing information: in particular, it collaborated with the printing of the new constitution, which is now one of the best-selling books in Chile.
Is Chilean society similarly divided?
Public opinion polls show that Chilean society is not polarised, unlike the elites.
What we see in Chile is asymmetric polarisation, a phenomenon that also occurs in countries such as Brazil and the USA. What creates asymmetrical polarisation is the presence of right-wing extremism. The extreme left is very small: it collects very few votes and has no media presence and no national visibility. The far right, however, has almost been normalised.
What is happening now is that it a referendum is by its very nature polarising, simply because it only provides two opposing options. If a plebiscite takes place in a context where the elites are polarised, it deepens division. For the time being, however, I think its effects have not reached deep into Chilean society.
A few months ago opinion polls appeared to show a majority in favour of approval, but now the opposite seems to be the case. Has the consensus for reform shifted?
I wouldn’t say that reformist consensus has been eroded. Practically nobody defends Pinochet’s Constitution: almost everybody who promotes rejection does so with the argument that rejection must be followed by reform. In other words, almost nobody advocates for keeping the current constitution, although if rejection wins, that is precisely what will happen, at least in the short term. Given the lack of agreement within the rejectionist coalition, its victory would open up a period of enormous uncertainty.
While reformist consensus has not been eroded, a distorted climate of opinion has been created by disinformation campaigns, presenting implausible interpretations of debates and fake news to sow doubts about the contents of the constitutional text. For example, the claim that the new constitution does not protect private property or that Indigenous people would have ‘privileges’ was widely circulated. All of this has interfered with public debate and cast doubt over the viability of the proposal.
What do think are the most positive and the most negative aspects of the new constitution?
Personally, I like the new constitution very much. It establishes a political system with less presidential powers and a better balance between the executive and legislative branches. The current constitution is an authoritarian text that is very biased in favour of the ‘strong man’.
I also like the definition of Chile as a regional state, a sort of intermediate form between the unitary and federal state. Chile is one of the most centralised countries in Latin America and the most centralised among democratic Organisation for Economic Cooperation and Development member countries.
The whole agenda of rights and the social state embraced by the new constitution also seems very positive to me. The incorporation of gender parity, a gendered perspective and multiculturalism are great advances. It was high time for plurinationality and Indigenous peoples to be recognised.
The doubts I have concern some issues that are outside my area of expertise, related to some aspects of plurinationality, such as the implementation of differentiated justice systems and Indigenous autonomies. This is also one of the issues that has highest levels of rejection among public opinion, for reasons that include racism, classism and a complex context in the south of Chile, where there is an ongoing conflict between the state and some Indigenous Mapuche communities.
But the truth is, most of these issues are only stated in the constitution and will be subject to ordinary legislation that must come from the current Congress, which has no reserved seats for Indigenous peoples. Therefore, in my opinion, positions on these issues will be tempered and there won’t be any radical changes.
Among the public, it is social rights that have the most support. Few people defend the neoliberal or subsidiary state that Chile currently has, although certain sectors of elites are concerned about the cost of changes: they wonder where the money will come from to finance all these rights, as if this were a good argument for deciding whether or not to recognise a right!
What will happen if the new constitution is approved, and what will happen if it is rejected?
If the constitution is approved the process will continue, as many provisions in the new constitution require additional ordinary legislation. In that case, a process of intense legislative activity will begin to give form to the new constitution’s mandates.
If rejection wins, much will depend on how big its win is. If it wins by a large margin, it will be more difficult for the constitution-making process to continue. If the rejectionist option wins, the government will immediately submit a bill to call for a new election to select convention members. But the approval of such a bill requires over 57 per cent of the votes in both chambers, a majority the government does not have, so it will need the right wing’s votes. The right’s willingness to sit down and negotiate will depend on its margin of victory.
If it wins narrowly, it will try to design a more inoffensive constitution-making process, with a smaller convention, a shorter mandate, no gender parity and no Indigenous peoples or very few reserved seats. If it wins by a landslide, there will be no constitutional convention, but a reform passed through Congress or designed by a commission of experts. We would be back to square one and absolutely everything would have to be renegotiated.
The million-dollar question is how society will react if a new constitution does not come out of this and the process does not continue or continues in a deficient way. I do not dare to venture an answer to this question.
Civic space in Chile is rated ‘obstructed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
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CHILE: ‘There is social consensus that the arbitrary exclusion of diverse families is unacceptable’
CIVICUS speaks with Marco Becerra, director of ACCIONGAY, about the process leading to the recent passage of Chile’s Equal Marriage Law. ACCIONGAY is a civil society organisation founded in 1987 in response to the HIV/AIDS epidemic, which was then ignored or minimised as a problem that only affected ‘risk groups’. Over time it expanded its scope of action to advocate for the rights of LGBTQI+ people, based on the principle that all people have the right to self-determination in relation to their lives, bodies, health, relationships and sexuality.
What was the process leading to the legalisation of equal marriage in Chile, and what role did ACCIONGAY play in it?
It was a long process, lasting about 30 years. The movement for sexual and gender diversity in Chile began to emerge in the late 1980s and early 1990s. This process had different stages. At first, work focused on the consolidation and visibility of the movement in a context of post-dictatorship political transition that was very unfavourable to the demands for equality of LGBTQI+ people. In the second stage, work focused on political advocacy to achieve effective commitment by political groups to tackle the challenges related to the inclusion of LGBTQI+ people.
By the late 1990s, some important changes began to take place, such as the repeal of a law that criminalised sexual relations between adult men. However, other demands – such as that for equal marriage – only came into the public conversation around 2005, when equal marriage was legalised in Spain. Around that time ACCIONGAY received a visit from Spanish activist Pedro Zerolo, who helped us understand the importance of broadening the debate on civil unions and the recognition of LGBTQI+ people’s rights.
In a broader sense, I would venture to say that demands for equality before the law were the result of a social and cultural change that Latin America had been experiencing for several years. The legalisation of equal marriage in Argentina and Uruguay, as well as its progress throughout Europe, prompted Chilean LGBTQI+ movements and sexual diversity organisations to mobilise around equality issues.
It is important to highlight the contributions of numerous organisations and activists who worked consistently over the years to build alliances with progressive political groups, which became committed to these struggles. The idea of civil unions became a reality during the first government of President Michelle Bachelet, in 2015, and later on, as favourable public opinion grew and the perception of these inequalities as an injustice increased, the demand for equal rights for same-sex families gained momentum.
The Equal Marriage Bill was sent to Congress by Bachelet’s second government in 2017 and finally passed in December 2021. It will come into force in March and will represent a very significant change for the lives of hundreds of families with same-sex parents who did not have any legal recognition and therefore experienced complete defencelessness before the state.
The keys to achieving this breakthrough were movement coordination, advocacy with political decision-makers and campaigning to raise awareness and sensitise public opinion.
How did this process interact with the 2019 wave of protests and the process to develop a new constitution that followed?
Chile is going through a complex, epoch-changing process that came about as a result of the 2019 social outburst. But the demands for equality and recognition of the rights of LGBTQI+ people largely predate this. This movement was already very strong before the social outburst, including a network of organisations that was very active and mobilised since the 1990s. However, the context of social mobilisation helped create an environment conducive to the consolidation of LGBTQI+ movement as a presence recognisable on the streets in citizen protests demanding more equality.
The profound social change that began to take place in Chile picked up on the historical struggles of LGBTQI+ organisations and movements that rose up in the context of the 2019 social outburst. To a large extent this was reflected in the number of LGBTQI+ people who recently got elected, especially for the Convention in charge of drafting the new constitution, as well as in the ministerial appointments of LGBTQI+ people made by the next president, Gabriel Boric.
Why did approval take so long, when polls showed very high levels of public support?
Although Chile has a very active civil society, its political system, even following recent changes, still includes extremely conservative enclaves. This was reflected in the difficulty that Congress had in moving this law forward, not least because there was no strong commitment from successive presidents. Nevertheless, Bachelet’s second government did act on the idea of legalising equal marriage. It was during her government that the Civil Union Law was passed and the Gender Identity Bill was sent to Congress, which was then passed during President Rafael Piñera’s term.
From the point of view of people’s perceptions, changes occurred because a social consensus was reached that the arbitrary exclusion of diverse families is unacceptable. Support for equal marriage is striking: almost 70 per cent of Chileans agree, and a similar number support adoption by same-sex couples.
Campaigns for equal marriage were mainly developed by LGBTQI+ organisations with the support of other social movements, human rights organisations and feminists, to name a few. At the same time, alliances, solidarity and trust were built not only with other social organisations but also with progressive sectors within political parties. Support for the Equal Marriage Law was quite cross-cutting, including a segment of the liberal centre-right that contributed their votes to make it possible. Only ultra-conservative sectors excluded themselves.
Some leaders of Evangelical Pentecostal churches, which have achieved some social influence in Chile, mobilised against the Equal Marriage Law, but were defeated in the parliamentary debate. The Catholic Church, on the other hand, remained silent, probably because in recent years it has lost social and political relevance as a consequence of the scandals of paedophilia and sexual abuse committed by members of the clergy against children and adolescents.
What will be the immediate effects of the new law, and what remains to be done?
This law will have immediate consequences as it will guarantee the enjoyment of all rights and the positive effects of marriage regardless of people’s sex or sexual orientation. As the law includes issues of adoption and parentage, it will solve a number of problems experienced by families of same-sex partners with children. For instance, non-biological parents had no legal rights to the children they were raising as theirs; now they will get legal recognition.
Chile has experienced a series of legal advances: the Anti-Discrimination Law in 2012, the Civil Union Law in 2015, the Gender Identity Law in 2018 and the Equal Marriage Law starting in 2022. However, high levels of discrimination persist in work and education. Violence against LGBTQI+ communities is rampant.
From March onwards, we will face the enormous challenge of reviewing our work agenda, especially since after 11 March we will have a progressive government that has incorporated equality and recognition of LGBTQI+ communities in its policy programme.
We are sure that this will be a very different government from its predecessors, and we are very hopeful that it will be possible to start closing the gap of real inclusion of LGBTQI+ people in all areas of social life, from public administration institutions to the educational sphere.
CHINA: ‘Its international role both originates in and enables domestic political control’
CIVICUS speaks about China’s growing international role withSharon Hom, Executive Director of Human Rights in China (HRIC), Adjunct Professor of Law at the New York University School of Law and Professor of Law Emerita at the City University of New York School of Law. Founded in 1989by overseas Chinese students and scientists, HRIC isa Chinese civil society group that promotes international human rights and advances the institutional protection of these rights in the People’s Republic of China. Through case and policy advocacy, media and press work, and capacity building, HRIC supports civil society as the driving force for sustainable change in China. HRIC has offices in New York and Hong Kong, and is active on local, regional, and global platforms.
Have there been any recent changes in the ways China engages in the United Nations (UN) system?
China has been increasingly active and sophisticated in its engagement with the UN human rights system. As one of the five permanent members of the Security Council – where it formally replaced Taiwan, the Republic of China (ROC) in 1971 – China has invoked its ‘One China Policy’ to block the recognition and admission of the ROC by other international bodies. At the same time, the shift of key players within the UN human rights system, and particularly the withdrawal of the USA from the Human Rights Council (HRC), has weakened principled leadership by Western democratic governments. This is especially concerning in the face of China’s increasingly aggressive, multi-pronged and sophisticated challenges to international standards and norms. A key element of China’s strategy has been essentially to counteroffer a model of governance that it refers to as human rights, democracy and rule by law ‘with Chinese characteristics.’
In addition to the HRC, China is active on human rights-related issues before various UN General Assembly committees, including the Third Committee, on social, humanitarian and cultural issues, and the Fifth Committee, on administrative and budgetary issues. Some key issues it engages in include counterterrorism, information security, treaty body strengthening processes and other human rights mechanisms and procedures, and civil society participation.
As part of the party-state’s overarching strategy to expand and strengthen China’s influence internationally, China has been promoting the appointment and influence of Chinese nationals to key UN bodies and UN specialised agencies. For example, Mr Zhao Houlin was the first Chinese national to serve as Secretary-General of the 150-year-old International Telecommunication Union (ITU), from 2014 to 2018 and 2019 to 2020. As a key agency for information and communications technologies promotion, collaboration and standardisation, the ITU was a leading UN agency involved in the World Summit on Information Society (WSIS). Endorsed by UN General Assembly Resolution 56/183 of 21 December 2001, the WSIS was convened in two phases. The first phase took place in Geneva from 10 to 12 December 2003 and the second in Tunis from 16 to 18 November 2005. China was active in pushing back against the inclusion of human rights-focused language in the outcome documents of phase one – the Geneva Declaration of Principles and Geneva Plan of Action – and opposed the accreditation of what it perceived to be hostile civil society groups, including HRIC.
In addition, Mr Liu Zhenmin, appointed in 2017 as UN Under-Secretary-General for Economic and Social Affairs, advises the UN Secretary-General on social, economic and environmental issues and guides the UN secretariat’s support for follow-up processes under the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development. Chinese nationals have also served on the International Court of Justice, including Ms Xue Hanqin, who has served as a jurist since 2010 and was named Vice President of the Court in 2018.
The appointments of nationals of a UN member state to key positions in UN bodies and agencies is not, of course, inherently problematic. Issues from a human rights perspective only emerge when any member state challenges existing standards regarding the rule of law as ‘inappropriate’ or advances a model of development that rejects a rights-based framework, as China now does.
What are the Government of China’s motivations in its international engagements? What agendas is it particularly pursuing?
The Chinese party-state’s motivations in its international engagements are primarily aimed at advancing the ambitious vision of President XI Jinping to see China take a leading role on the global stage, as laid out in part in his vision for the realisation of a ‘China Dream.’ Internationally, the party-state wants to ensure the narrative of China is ‘properly’ told, without questioning of or pushback against some of the more problematic elements of its model of governance.
Specific objectives include limiting civil society engagement with and input into UN human rights mechanisms to government-approved civil society groups; redefining the foundational principle of the UN human rights system from one of the universality of human rights to that of the ‘conditionality’ of human rights; and shifting human rights protection from state accountability to a cooperative enterprise among member states. If achieved, these objectives will undermine the integrity and efficacy of the existing human rights system and enable states to become the arbiters of what human rights to confer on their people, the ‘operators’ of their respective human rights systems, and the overseers of accountability.
Is one of the benefits of China's increasing international role that there is less oversight of its domestic human rights record?
The international role of the Chinese party-state both originates in and enables its agenda for domestic political control. China’s increasing efforts to undermine and redefine fundamental human rights and specific human rights mechanisms on the international stage limits the protections and redress available to Chinese people for violations of international rights guarantees. Its agenda for international influence also serves to legitimise as well as decrease scrutiny of its domestic policies and practices. In addition, the tendency for international actors to either appease or otherwise act in complicity with the Chinese state has also led to serious consequences both for Chinese people as well as others around the world.
One of the most vivid examples of China’s attempts to redefine human rights accountability and the lack of pushback by governments is the passage of the China-led resolution A/HRC/37/L.36 in March 2016 at the HRC. The resolution, ‘Promoting mutually beneficial cooperation in the field of human rights’, which included language of the so-called ‘Xi Jinping Thought’, passed with 28 votes in favour and 17 abstentions; the only vote against came from the USA.
What kind of alliances or partnerships is China making with other states to work internationally?
One of China’s most ambitious and formidable global development strategies in recent years is the ‘Belt and Road Initiative’, an international infrastructure and investment programme that has already involved almost 70 countries across Africa, Asia and Europe. Proposed by Xi Jinping in 2013, the Initiative is aimed at connecting major African and Eurasian nations through infrastructure development and investment, including a ‘digital silk road’ of Chinese-built fibre-optic networks. The Initiative has raised serious political and economic concerns among an increasing number of states, including Japan and the USA, about the Chinese political and strategic ambitions embedded in these economic partnerships. More recently, even some member states, the putative beneficiaries, are starting to push back against the ‘win-win’ arrangements that are now clearly ending up with them as client or debtor states.
In addition, as one of the leading states in the Shanghai Cooperation Organisation (SCO) – a regional multilateral organisation with the primary goal of coordinating counterterrorism efforts and economic and military cooperation – China has been deployed in troubling joint military exercises, including simulated rescues of hostages being held by Muslim or Chechnian separatists. In accordance with SCO member and observer obligations, member states have returned Muslims to China to face uncertain fates, an action very much in conflict with the international non-refoulement obligations of all states. The SCO consists of eight member states and four observer states. However, though all the members of the multilateral regional organisation have incredibly troubling domestic human rights records, the SCO has been warmly welcomed by the UN as an observer at the UN General Assembly since 2005.
What are the impacts of China’s involvement on international institutions and on the space for civil society in those institutions?
China’s increasing involvement and influence in international institutions such as the UN poses a steep and growing challenge to the meaningful participation of civil society organisations (CSOs). As a member of the UN NGO Committee, China and ‘like-minded’ states act in concert to block UN Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC) accreditation to CSOs they deem critical or disparaging of China. When CSOs legitimately seek to participate as part of partner or league organisations, China has sought to challenge their participation. For example, the World Uyghur Congress (WUC) often participates as a member of the Unrepresented Nations and People’s Organisation. However, China has attempted to block interventions by the WUC in the HRC sessions and even to ban them from the buildings and grounds. China once even branded the WUC President Mr Dolkun Isa as a terrorist in an effort to block his participation in side events at the HRC in Geneva, and at General Assembly side events in New York. Ironically, these unfounded smear efforts served only to increase interest in various events.
How is civil society working on issues around China’s international-level engagement, and what support does civil society need to be able to work effectively on this issue?
Despite the many and significant challenges inherent in this work, CSOs around the world are increasingly working together to address China’s efforts to distort and subvert human rights norms on the international stage, and to address serious rights abuses. This includes collaborations between local, regional and international civil society groups to issue joint letters, briefings and submissions for UN human rights mechanisms and procedures, interventions at HRC sessions and side events and other targeted activities.
The key support that civil society needs, especially smaller CSOs, is two-pronged: financial support to continue to carry out their missions and conduct the necessary research and projects related to understanding and responding to China’s actions on the international stage; and for governments of other states to act more aggressively and effectively to counter China when it acts inappropriately, and in particular to ensure a safe and enabling environment for domestic CSOs.
Civic space in China is rated as ‘closed’ by theCIVICUS Monitor.
China’s growing power is a new challenge for civil society
By Andrew Firmin
In one of the world’s most powerful countries, merely wanting to speak your own language can be risky. After spending more than two years in detention, Tibetan activist Tashi Wangchuk was recently sentenced to five years in prison. His crime, in the eyes of China’s authorities: giving a video interview about the eradication of the Tibetan language in schools and public places.
Read on: Asian Correspondent
Civic Space in Europe Survey
Recent years have witnessed increased challenges to the core democratic values upheld in many
parts of the world, protest movements have gathered in many countries to call for greater
accountability of governments.
At the same time a number of governments have appeared to regard civil society organisations and
active citizens as unhelpful and have at times suggested that the basic freedoms of association,
assembly and expression should be limited in favour of vaguely defined ‘national interests’; in other
cases there have been direct calls for limits to the right to campaign, which would undermine the
basic freedoms that lie at the heart of democracy in Europe.
So we set out to understand a core issue: do civil society organisations feel that their rights are
This survey set out to draw out some initial perceptions of civil society leaders in Europe as part of a
wider global process to understand and analyse the changes that are taking place in many countries.
It is intended to highlight some key trends but does not aim to provide a fully comprehensive picture
of the situation in every country at this stage.
Civic space is shrinking, yet civil society is not the enemy
By Lysa John, Secretary-General of CIVICUS.
The 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development and its 17 Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), adopted by the UN member states in 2015, represent an ambitious, but achievable, agenda to make the world better. Importantly, they are a reminder that world leaders have agreed on common goals to end poverty, protect the planet, and ensure that all people enjoy peace and prosperity by 2030. In a remarkable shift in international public policy, they have pledged to ‘leave no one behind’ in this effort, thereby committing themselves not just to work together, but also to work for the benefit of all people irrespective of who they are or where they come from.
The values that underpin our ability to generate an internationally co-ordinated response to the sustainable development challenge are, however, increasingly being questioned, undermined and even overruled by leaders who promote narrow, self-serving interpretations of national interest. Report after report from civil society organisations across the globe highlight what we have called in our State of Civil Society report this year a trend towards “presidential sovereignty” that aims to undermine or override the mandate of constitutions, national rights preserving institutions and international agreements.
Civic Space Restrictions in Africa
By David Kode
Across Africa, major advances in democracy have been affected by restrictions on civic space and on the activities of civil society organisations (CSOs), the media and individual activists. Civic space is the foundation for civil society to make its contribution to society, provoking discussion and debate, advocating for a more inclusive society, providing services, building community spirit and challenging those in authority on the decisions they make.
CIVICUS Calls For Calm and Respect of Voters’ Rights in Kenya Elections
As Kenyans go to the polls tomorrow to vote in general elections, global civil society alliance, CIVICUS calls on the authorities, leaders of political parties and communities to adhere to democratic principles and respect the will of all Kenyans.
Kenya has a history of violence during election seasons and fear of a recurrence has dominated the period of political campaigns. Kenyan authorities and leaders of political parties have a responsibility to ensure a peaceful and transparent election, which will enhance Kenya’s democratic credentials.
Human rights violations committed over the last few months have raised security concerns and increased calls for all involved in the vote to avoid a repeat of the violence that followed the 2007-2008 elections in which over 1,000 people were killed and more than 500,000 internally displaced.
Last week, Chris Msando, the Independent Electoral and Boundaries Commission’s (IEBC) head of Information, Communication and Technology, was found dead after being missing for three days. Msando had played a key role in the development of a new electronic ballot and voter registration system and complained of death threats shortly before he was killed.
Since Msando oversaw the new electronic system regarded as key to eliminating vote rigging and ensuring the credibility of the elections, his killing raises serious concerns over threats of violence related to electoral malpractices. Prior to the adoption of the new system, Kenya’s High Court nullified a contract awarded to Dubai-based Al-Ghurair Printing and Publishing, a company with alleged links to President Uhuru Kenyatta. Following the court’s 9 July ruling, President Kenyatta and his Jubilee Coalition questioned the independence of the judiciary and accused it of supporting the political opposition.
The election campaign period has also been dominated by an exchange of accusations between President Uhuru Kenyatta and main opposition leader, Raila Odinga. The President accused Odinga of trying to divide Kenya and provoke violence and Odinga, in turn, accused the President of planning to rig the vote. While the 2013 elections were largely peaceful, violence erupted following the 2007 elections after political figures encouraged supporters to protest election results.
“Kenya’s politics is largely based on ethnic affiliations and the views of political figures are taken seriously. It will be very important for leaders to avoid using language that may incite the population and instigate violence during and after tomorrow’s elections. Said David Kode, CIVICUS’ Head of Advocacy and Campaigns.
There has been violence among rival parties’ supporters during the nominations of candidates for positions of president, legislators and local councillors. Human rights defenders and journalists have also been attacked, intimidated and vilified as they sought to access voter registration stations and polling booths and report on political campaigns. On 18 June 2017, Walter Menya of the Nation newspaper was arrested and held at an undisclosed location for two days before being released without charge. Some communities have heightened tensions by accusing activists and journalists of anti-nationalist agendas for making representations at the International Criminal Court (ICC) in the aftermath of the 2007-2008 polls.
CIVICUS calls on the Kenyan authorities, politicians and leaders to act in a responsible manner and respect the will of the electorate during and after the elections.
Kenya’s civic space is rated as ‘obstructed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform that tracks threats to civil society across the globe. It is currently on the Monitor’s Watch List of countries where there are serious and ongoing threats to civic space.
Watch our interview with activist and poet Sitawa Namwalie talking about about her hopes and fears for 2017 Kenyan Elections.
For more information, please contact:
Senior Media Advisor
T: +27 63 567 9719
Head of Advocacy and Campaigns
CIVICUS Monitor Findings Report
Data from the CIVICUS Monitor shows that 3.2 billion people live in countries where civic space (which is made up by the freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly) is repressed or closed.
Of the 104 countries for which we have verified ratings, 16 countries are rated closed, 32 repressed, 21 obstructed, 26 narrowed and nine open. Of the closed countries, seven are in Africa, five in the Middle East, three in Asia and one in the Americas. Of the repressed countries, 14 are in Africa, seven in Asia, four each in Europe and the Americas and three in the Middle East.1 Of the obstructed countries, seven are in Asia, five in the Americas, four each in Africa and Europe and one in the Middle East. Of the narrowed countries, ten each are in Europe and the Americas, four in Africa and two in Asia. All nine of the open countries for which we have verified ratings are in Europe. 1 The list of countries included in each of these regional classifications
CIVICUS Statement on the MDG Summit
World Leaders must act decisively before it's too late
Johannesburg. 23 September 2010. As the high level Summit on the Millennium Development Goals draws to a close, CIVICUS urges world leaders to act decisively on the recommendations presented to them.
"The Summit has provided occasion to re-assess failed promises and take corrective action on the MDGs before it's too late," said CIVICUS Secretary General Ingrid Srinath. "Achieving the MDGs in the next five years requires world leaders to fulfil their existing commitments, become accountable to each other and their people, re-commit to human rights, and ensure civil society has the freedom to exist, express and engage."
A number of concrete acceleration strategies to keep the MDGs on track to be achieved by 2015 were forwarded by civil society and official representatives. Recommendations during the three day Summit from 20-22 September include addressing the shortfall in development funding by taxing financial transactions; ensuring strict adherence by rich countries towards fulfilling their overseas development aid commitments and meeting a minimum target of 0.7% of their GNI; reforming and regulating financial structures to guard against economic meltdown and job losses; implementing fair trade policies to reduce wealth disparities between rich and poor countries; reducing dependence on fossil fuels through support for energy efficient and green technology; and focusing national development plans to prioritise women's empowerment, social security and equitable distribution of wealth. Notably, strong recommendations were made to ground MDG strategies in social justice and human rights concepts.
As a follow-up to the MDG Summit, CIVICUS urges governments to unconditionally implement the solutions suggested by civil society experts, and ensure that the principles of accountability and participation are an integral part of MDG strategies over the next five years. In particular leaders should:
- Review and align MDG strategies with the international human rights framework and set time bound targets to achieve goals;
- Guarantee access to accurate and timely information on progress achieved with regard to MDG targets;
- Strengthen accountability mechanisms at the national and international level to ensure compliance with MDG targets; and
- Ensure public and civil society participation in all MDG related processes.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society across the world.
For more information please contact CIVICUS:
CIVICUS urges the Nicaraguan Government to make Civil Society its partner in development
27 January 2009. Johannesburg, South Africa
A fact-finding cum solidarity mission to Nicaragua undertaken by CIVICUS with the support of its members, the Coordinadora Civil (CC) and the Red Nicaraguense por la Democracia y el Desarrollo Local (RNDDL), has found evidence of pressure being applied by the authorities on independent civil society groups. Nevertheless, talks with officials have been positive raising hopes for better government-civil society relations.
The mandate of the mission included: (i) expressing solidarity with civil society groups in Nicaragua who have had to contend with decreasing space to carry out their legitimate activities through 2008-2009 and, (ii) persuading the authorities to protect civil and political freedoms in the country, particularly the right to express democratic dissent.
The mission members met with a number of civil society groups, including members of the women's movement who have had to face restrictions in recent times as well as parliamentarians and government officials. The mission noted the positive strides made by the government in providing health care and education resulting in an increase in the overall literacy rate.
The mission observed that although government-civil society relations at the municipal level were often quite good, there were some outstanding issues in need of redress at the national level. Notably, the mission welcomed the willingness of parliamentarians and government officials to consider the concerns communicated to them by national civil society groups.
The following are the major areas of concern:
(a) launch of motivated prosecutions against activists expressing dissent against official policies, (b) ostracising and blacklisting of certain civil society groups particularly those working on accountability matters, (c) marginalisation of independent civil society groups through the creation of government organised NGOs (GONGOs) supported by federal funds, (d) blocking of access to information by official bodies, (e) harassment of independent media groups particularly radio and television outlets critical of official actions and, (f) de facto implementation of the draft law on international cooperation that places restrictions on support to local civil society organisations from international groups.
"Our talks with key officials have been open and positive," feels Anabel Cruz, chair of CIVICUS' board who headed the mission. "We call upon the Government of Nicaragua to consider civil society as partners in national development and hope that the concerns will be addressed."
CIVICUS urges the Government of Nicaragua to protect and safeguard the space for civil society in accordance with international, regional and constitutional commitments. A comprehensive report on the mission is being prepared and will be released shortly.
CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen Participation is a global movement of civil society with members and partners in over a hundred countries. The Civil Society Watch (CSW) programme of CIVICUS tracks threats to civil society freedoms of expression, association and assembly across the world.
CIVICUS World Assembly Delegates Express Deep Disappointment at India's New Curbs on Civil Society
6 September 2010. Over 70 eminent civil society activists from across the globe who attended the CIVICUS World Assembly in Montreal this August expressed deep disappointment at the enactment of India's regressive Foreign Contributions Regulations Act, 2010 (FCRA).
Among other things, the Act allows for broad executive discretion to designate organisations as being of ‘political nature' and thereby prevent them from accessing funding from abroad, which could affect the independence of civil society groups critical of government policies. It also requires organisations to renew their permission to receive funding from abroad every five years which subjects them to additional bureaucratic red tape, and places an arbitrary cap of 50% on the administrative expenses of an organisation receiving foreign funding as a further sign of interference in the internal functioning of civil society organisations.
Civil Society “Contested and Under Pressure”, says new report
Civil society around the globe is “contested and under pressure” according to a 22-country research findings report released by CIVICUS, the global civil society alliance, and The International Center for Not-for-Profit Law (ICNL). The report, Contested and Under Pressure: A Snapshot of the Enabling Environment of Civil Society in 22 Countries, brings together insights from Enabling Environment National Assessments (EENA) conducted around the world between 2013 and 2016.
Civil society assess outcomes of UNGA76 Third Committee session
17 NGOs that closely follow and engage with the Third Committee have joined together to publish a joint statement on outcomes of this 76th session.
Civil society calls on the Israeli Government to release Ameer Makhoul
CIVICUS joins civil society groups from around the world in demanding the immediate release of Ameer Makhoul, Director of Ittijah, an association of community-based Arab organisations based in Israel and the Palestinian territories. Ameer Makhoul, a prominent human rights activist and prisoner of conscience was arrested under questionable circumstances on 6 May 2010.
Ameer Makhoul remains in prison despite the lack of evidence against him. During his latest appearance in the District Court in Haifa on 16 September, the cross examination of the policemen who arrested Ameer on 6 May revealed that during the Shabak (GSS) investigations, Ameer was denied sleep and access to the restroom for more than 24 hours. It was also revealed that there was no evidence on his computer and cell phone to prove he was involved in espionage or any conspiracy with a Hezbollah agent - charges levelled against him by the Israeli government.
According to local sources, Ameer was detained incommunicado for six days following his arrest where he was given no explanation of the charges brought forth against him and was denied access to a lawyer during that time. Ameer is charged with violating "security" regulations, allegedly meeting and conspiring with an alleged Hezbollah agent while abroad who supposedly recruited him to engage in espionage against Israel. The Shin Bet, the Israeli security service, has refused to reveal any evidence supporting the charges against Ameer.
During all of his seven meetings with his lawyers in prison, Ameer was denied his constitutional right to consult with lawyers privately and confidentially. According to Provision 45 of the Prisons Ordinance, clients and lawyers should not be separated, conversations should not be recorded or listened in on and it should be possible for lawyers to exchange documents relevant to the legal proceedings of the case. However, during each of the consultations, communication was only allowed via telephone, separated by a glass screen, or with prison guards listening into the conversations.
The following civil society organisations from around the world and CIVICUS: World Alliance for Citizen consider Ameer as a prisoner of conscience, who has been arbitrarily arrested and detained for his lawful work with Ittijah, a civil society group which promotes the rights of Palestinian Arab civil society and advocates for political, economic and social change for Palestinians who are denied equal access to infrastructure and services. We call upon on the Israeli Government to respect its international human rights obligations by restoring to Ameer Makhoul his rights to freedom of expression, movement and proper due process of law. His next appearance in court will be October.
This Public Statement has been endorsed/signed by the following:
Karapatan, Alliance for the Advancement of People's Rights - Philippines
Association of NGOs of Aotearoa - New Zealand
Development Services Exchange - Solomon Islands
Egyptian Association for Community Participation Enhancement - Egypt
Cook Islands Association of NGOs - Cook Islands
National Association of NGOs - Zimbabwe
National Council for Voluntary Organisations - England
NGO Coalition on Child Rights - Pakistan
Nigerian Network of NGOs - Nigeria
Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations - Scotland
Sinergia, Venezuelan Association of Civil Society Organisations - Venezuela
Civil Society Meeting Calls for Solidarity, Radical Change to Deal with Global Crises
By Amy Taylor
Our strategies have failed us. We can no longer respond to the crises facing us in the same way. We have to be more radical, more creative — together — to build the future we want. This was one of the resounding messages to emerge from a key global gathering of more than 700 leading thinkers, influencers and doers from more than 100 countries in Suva, Fiji in early December.
Read on: Inter Press Service
Civil society reports show evidence of shrinking civic space in Europe
A survey of civil society organisations in Europe conducted in early 2016 by Civil Society Europe and CIVICUS shows evidence of a shrinking civic space in Europe.