• ‘#MeToo is a feminist movement and feminism perfects democracy’

    Ahead of the publication of the 2018 State of Civil Society Report on the theme of ‘reimagining democracy’, we are interviewing civil society activists and leaders about their work to promote democratic governance, and the challenges they encounter in doing so. CIVICUS speaks to Ranhee Song, General Secretary of Korea Women's HotLine and a women’s rights activist, about the #MeToo campaign in South Korea. The movement has mobilised nationwide and has been instrumental in pushing for a review of defamation laws and a bill that would establish a special investigation agency for oversight of high-ranking public officials.

    1. Could you retrace for us the story of the #MeToo movement in South Korea?
    The #MeToo Movement in South Korea began after a female prosecutor, Ms Seo, revealed publicly in a news interview on 29 January 2018 that she had been sexually harassed by a senior prosecutor in 2010. After that interview, there was an uproar in Korean society.

    The mobilisation in South Korea did not differ much from the #MeToo response in other countries. There have been other cases of women speaking out about sexual violence in various places over the past few years in Korea, but the domestic trigger was the fact Ms Seo is a prosecutor and that she went on public TV to speak about her case. In Korea there has been a lot of victim blaming, so usually victims could not expose their faces in public. After the news interview by Ms Seo, many others across Korean society began to join the #MeToo campaign. They felt that despite the fact that she was a prosecutor, she had still not been able to talk about the sexual harassment against her. This made many people angry and they woke up to how difficult speaking about sexual harassment is. There were a few high-profile cases involving political and entertainment figures, but also countless regular women shared their stories. In that way, the #MeToo movement showed a very clearly picture of the reality of sexual harassment in Korea.

    At that point, we at Korea Women’s HotLine compiled a list of known sexual offenders. Within one month, the list already contained 139 names – which was impressive, given that we only worked with news sources. What we wanted to show is how big the problem is, and how pervasive.

    2. Is #MeToo in South Korea mostly about sexual harassment, or does it connect with other issues raised by the wider women’s rights movement?
    It is mostly about sexual harassment, and its demands are simple: punishment of offenders, strengthening of guarantees of the human rights of those who experience harassment, and changes in the government’s attitude towards sexual harassment.

    While its main target is the government, our civil culture is also being questioned. Along the way, the #MeToo movement has become wider and has begun to touch on many other issues: gender discrimination in the workplace, anti-feminist bullying, spy cam crime, gender discrimination in investigations and within the judicial system, and so on. In Korea, the pay gap is immense, and the glass ceiling is too hard to break, so the number of women in key position of power in the workplace is still negligible. And within the legal system, victims often must prove how strongly they resisted assault; otherwise they are blamed rather than supported. The changes needed are very profound.

    3. What kind of activities the South Korean #MeToo movement has undertaken, and who has been involved?
    First of all, we formed the ‘Citizens Action with #MeToo movement’. This is a network of civil and feminist organisations and individuals. Almost 340 organisations are involved in this group.

    We organised demonstrations calling for the end of sexual harassment and gender discrimination. We have held discussion programmes with citizens, and we have plans to expand the #MeToo movement.

    Along with the ‘Citizens Action with #MeToo movement’, many other groups, large and small, have held numerous demonstrations, discussion programmes and lectures. Recently, there were very large demonstration to condemn gender discrimination in the investigation of illegal photography and among the judicial authorities focusing on this. Almost 45,000 women gathered at this demonstration.

    4. What has the #MeToo movement achieved so far, in terms of changing the conversation and the content of public policy?
    I’m not sure if we have achieved much yet in terms of public policy because it’s been only five months since the movement began. Of course, the government has promised many policies, but five months is too short to judge the success of a campaign. Also, the more important thing is that the government doesn’t understand that the essential point of #MeToo is the problem of gender discrimination. So, public policy changes must start with that. But so far, their policies seem very short-sighted.

    Nevertheless, I think, the indisputable achievement of #MeToo is that women have woken up about the reality of women’s lives in Korea. Many women are saying “we cannot go back to the period before #MeToo.” It has opened so many possibilities to achieve change.
    The #MeToo movement shows us that we, Korean society, have much work to do.

    5. How is the #MeToo movement connecting to broader struggle for rights, democracy and accountability in South Korea?
    I think the #MeToo movement demands a complete change in power relationships within our society. Sexual harassment shows very well how unfairly power is distributed. People need to learn from this.

    It was a bit surprising for a movement like this to emerge in South Korea, but at the same time, it was bound to happen sooner or later. The #MeToo movement is a feminist movement, and feminism perfects democracy.

    Civic space in South Korea is rated as ‘narrowed’ by the CIVICUS Monitor
    Get in touch with Korean Women’s Hotline through their website, or follow @kwhotline on Twitter


  • 2018 points to a new wave of citizen activism

    By Ines Pousadela

    When looking back at 2017, it is hard to lose sight of the fact that restrictions on fundamental freedoms were imposed at an ever-growing pace, even in countries that believed themselves to be immune to authoritarian temptations. However, along with increasing restrictions on civil society rights, we can also see civil society fighting back and continuing to claim rights.

    Read on : Equal Times 



  • Gender @ CIVICUS

    Taking back spaces for the feminist movement

    Women human rights defenders and gender rights activists experience all the risks and threats that male activists do, plus some specific to their gender and the patriarchal systems they challenge. These include, but are not limited to, gender-based violence, attacks in the home from family or community members, threats to their children or families, rhetoric that they are bad wives and mothers, or other forms of slander, intimidation and exclusion.

    These attacks can come when women challenge conventional gender roles, when activism is not seen as a suitable role for a woman, when they work on socially controversial issues, or a combination of these.

    How this changed in 2017

    As our latest State of Civil Society Reportpoints out, patriarchy is coming under the spotlight.

    In October 2017, the #MeToo  hashtag spread through social media, and stories of sexual harassment flooded the internet. Every single woman who spoke out meant someone realising she was not alone and daring to break the silence.

    In January 2018, the Time’s Up campaign helped democratise the issue by encouraging and enabling women in more disadvantaged positions to report sexual harassment and seek justice. Sexual harassment and violence are increasingly inexcusable, and now they’re becoming a crucial part of the debate about gender inequalities, and power and wealth imbalances.

    Strengthening how we discuss gender @ Civicus

    Gender equality and diversity is important to us at CIVICUS.

    We believe it is our duty to strengthen the discussion and recognise overlapping inequalities and discriminations. We will use that strength to push for greater representation and remedies for the struggles faced by women from excluded groups, such as impoverished and immigrant women, disabled, indigenous and lesbian and transgender women, among others.

    Our task is to promote awareness, understanding and engagement around civic space - the right to speak out, organise, and take action - and gender, as well asadvocate for the protection of women human rights and defenders (WHRDs).

    Our internal diversity and inclusion group collaborates in safe space to share ideas, concerns and recommendations, and brainstorm constructive solutions to pressing challenges around gender, diversity and inclusion, in the context of civic space.

    Our membership-based Gender Working Group is undergoing a renewal process. If you want to keep up-to-date on the activities of this group as we develop the member networking elements of it, email us here.

    Recent gender and inclusion initiatives

    • Supporting the staff-wide Inclusion Audit   with Human Resources and the management team, who are working toward the best possible inclusion policies and practices for CIVICUS Alliance and the Secretariat, and sharing learnings and outcomes with the Alliance.
    • Supporting allies in Geneva at the Human Rights Council and with special procedures and the Universal Periodic Review process (see examples that relate to women's rights, Colombia, Egypt, Pakistan) and Convention on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), where we connected members working on gender equality, women’s rights, sexual orientation and gender rights issues, sexual and reproductive health and rights, girls’    education, and other key areas, with each other and with international processes and spaces.
    • Participating in and convening events for:
      • #16DaysAgainstGBV in November-December 2017,
      • Global Women’s Marches in January 2017,
      • 8th March International Women’s Day,
      • #ADayWithoutAWoman women’s strike,
      • Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) 61,
      • International Day Against Homophobia, Transphobia & Biphobia,
      • #SheDefends Women Human Rights Defenders Middle East/North A   frica campaign.   
    • Highlighting gender-related learnings through spaces like the Gender, Inclusion and the State of Civil Society webinar, and amplifying the voices of women and sexual minorities where media opportunities arise.
    • Coordinate joint statements with LGBTIQ groups at the HRC on sexual orientation and gender identity (SOGI) debates and work with LGBTIQ groups on the severe attacks they face.

    Join the conversation

    Send us an email with some info about the work you or your organisation is doing, and we’ll keep you informed about gender rights work going on within the Alliance.


  • In Defence of Humanity: Women Human Rights Defenders and the struggle against silencing

    WHRDs PolicyBriefIn recent years, combined with existing threats, the rise of right-wing and nationalist populism across the world has led to an increasing number of governments implementing repressive measures against the space for civil society (civic space), particularly affecting women human rights defenders (WHRDs). The increasingly restricted space for WHRDs presents an urgent threat, not only to women-led organisations, but to all efforts campaigning for women’s rights, gender equality and the rights of all people. In spite of these restrictions, WHRDs have campaigned boldly in the face of mounting opposition: movements such as #MeToo #MenAreTrash, #FreeSaudiWomen, #NiUnaMenos, #NotYourAsianSideKick and #AbortoLegalYa show how countless women are working to advance systemic change for equality and justice. More WHRDs across the world are working collectively to challenge structural injustices and promote the realisation of human rights and fundamental freedoms. Their power has been in the collective, despite constant attempts at silencing them. Furthermore, there have been WHRDs recognized for their invaluable contributions to opening civic space and protecting human rights in India, Poland, and Ireland. In the United States, WHRDs have won awards for the environmental activism, and in Iraq for their work in calling for greater accountability for sexual violence during war time.

    This policy brief responds to this context and highlights how the participation of WHRDs in defending and strengthening the protection of human rights is critical for transforming traditional gender roles, embedded social norms and patriarchal power structures. WHRDs are leading actions to advance sexual and reproductive health rights (SRHR), socioeconomic justice, labour rights and environmental rights. Moreover, WHRDs work to ensure that women are included in political and economic decision-making processes, making clear the disproportionate effects that socioeconomic inequalities have on women and gender non-conforming people.

    Download the Report


  • Reimagining democracy requires better participation in political and economic decisions


    • Year-long global research initiative explores what democracy means to people from almost 80 countries and what kind of democracy they want
    • Key challenges identified are flawed elections, political and economic exclusion, extremism and political polarisation
    • Recommendations include increased direct, participatory democracy and an economy that works for all

    If we could reimagine the kind of democracy we live in and the way we experience democracy, what would it look and be like?

    This was the question researchers put to thought leaders and activists from nearly 80 countries across the globe, in a year-long ‘Reimagining Democracy’ initiative. Even though the project coincided with the rise of regressive populist ideas and political polarisation in many parts of the world, the resounding answer is that people want more democracy, not less of it.

    Led by global civil society alliance, CIVICUS, the initiative’s report entitled, ‘Democracy for All: Beyond a crisis of imagination’, draws from insights gleaned from almost 100 interviews, 54 essays and 26 ‘democracy dialogues’ from across the world to discuss the state of democracy.

    We were motivated to explore the question of reimagining democracy by looking at current challenges while examining fundamental flaws in institutions and the practice of democracy,” said Mandeep Tiwana, CIVICUS’ Chief Programmes Officer and one of the initiative’s leaders.

    The world’s governance systems are living in the moment, stymied by a crisis of imagination, short-term thinking and the tactical considerations of those in power. We need radical solutions grounded in democratic values for the future,” said Tiwana.

    In country after country, democracy is under attack. In many countries, we see democratic regression and the withdrawal of democratic freedoms. According to the CIVICUS Monitor, an online platform measuring civic space, freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly are being undermined in most parts of the world. We see the rise of polarising politics and the cult of the strong-arm leader. We see right-wing populism on the march. At the same time, profound global problems such as climate change, inequality and conflict are left largely unaddressed. Everywhere around the world, people are unhappy with the limited and exclusionary forms of democracy they experience.

    The initiative’s participants outlined several innovative solutions for a renewal of democracy, centred around access to political and economic decision-making at all levels. The report identifies three fundamental shifts required to reimagine democracy.

    First, decision-making needs to take place at the local and community levels. The report calls for new and enhanced forms of community-level participation, with decisions defined by local needs and aspirations. It recommends more direct and deliberative democracy, through means such as citizens’ assemblies and community parliaments.

    Second, global problems need global solutions, developed through global democracy. Citizens should have a direct say in international decision-making that impacts on their lives. One solution offered is a world parliament, elected directly by people and not on nation-state lines. In the face of today’s challenges, the report points to international governance as a legitimate sphere of action for people and organisations to claim rights and advance change.

    Third, a new vision is needed to address exclusion and inequality through a democratised economy that works for all. Key elements include democratic participation in economic decision-making; properly functioning tax regimes; redistribution of wealth; provision of quality non-monetised public services for all; workplace democracy; and sustainable management of world’s finite resources through democratic control.

    The report concludes that civil society has played a key role in leading the global response to democratic challenges. In places as diverse as Armenia, South Korea and The Gambia, people’s movements have recently sparked democratic breakthroughs, successfully challenging autocratic leaders at the ballot box and in the streets. In West African countries such as Burkina Faso and Senegal, young people have led movements, mobilising creatively to stand up to autocratic rulers who tried to extend their time in office. Malaysia’s ruling party was finally defeated after more than six decades of entrenched power, with civil society’s campaigning against corruption and electoral abuses pivotal.

    The Me Too and Time’s Up movements mobilised huge numbers of people, changing the debate about the status of women in societies and workplaces not just in the US but around the world. In Ireland, people’s mobilisations have shown how citizen assemblies and referendums can advance rights with a successful campaign to change the abortion law, marking a victory for women’s sexual and reproductive rights.

    To progress, we must work harder to make elections fair while building diverse alliances that support independent judiciaries, media and other stakeholders interested in protecting democratic values. Notably, civil society needs to lead by example, by modelling democratic accountability that we want to see,” said Tiwana.

    Overall, the ‘Reimagining Democracy’ initiative found that in general, people still believe that democracy is the best form of governance, even if they are dissatisfied with their current experience of it. It’s a fundamental human aspiration to have voice and influence over the circumstances of our lives. With substantive democracy, better decisions can be taken and decision-makers can be held more accountable.


    Notes for Editors

    For the full report, click here.
    To read all of the contributions on the Reimagining Democracy platform, on which the report is based, click here.
    For real-time data on threats to democracy and civil society in all countries, provided by The CIVICUS Monitor, click here.
    For the 2018 State of Civil Society report, click here.

    To arrange interviews or for further information or media assistance, please contact:

    For the CIVICUS Press Centre, click here.
    CIVICUS facebook page
    CIVICUS twitter account

    About CIVICUS:

    CIVICUS is a global alliance of civil society organisations and activists dedicated to strengthening citizen action and civil society throughout the world. Established in 1993 and headquartered in Johannesburg, South Africa, CIVICUS has hubs across the globe and more than 4,000 members in more than 175 countries.

    Our definition of civil society is broad and covers non-governmental organisations, activists, civil society coalitions and networks, protest and social movements, voluntary bodies, campaigning organisations, charities, faith-based groups, trade unions and philanthropic foundations. Our membership is diverse, spanning a wide range of issues, sizes and organisation types.