"Stubbornly optimistic": Reflections from Lysa John, CIVICUS SG


It has been a little over 60 days since I took on my new role with CIVICUS and the question I get asked most frequently is: How does it feel to be SG? Fortunately, this query has an easy answer! It involves being reminded on a daily basis of the need to celebrate and reinforce efforts taken to defend and strengthen rights-based values and freedoms by individuals and organisations worldwide. It also involves being stubbornly optimistic about our ability as civil society to demonstrate greater accountability and impact, while continuing to learn from each other and from unconventional champions of the causes we believe in!

The past few weeks have been proof of this experience on several counts. On International Women’s Day this year, CIVICUS was one of 27 agencies that signed up to the Fair Share of Women Leaders initiative. This campaign has a simple ask: civil society organisations must match the percentage of women in leadership positions to the percentage of women in their staff. For the CIVICUS Secretariat, this means that the representation of women in our Board and senior management, currently at 50 percent, must increase to 70 percent. This proposal has been received with much enthusiasm within and outside the Secretariat. Some of you have also committed to increase women leaders in your workplaces. We would welcome more offers of support – and ideas on how we can to generate further momentum for this change across the CIVICUS network. Please reach out if you have a contribution!

"We received an overwhelming response to our call for nominations to the Board - thank you for this resounding affirmation in the CIVICUS Alliance! Voting members - look out this week for our message providing instructions to elect the next set of inspiring leaders to our Board!" 

This period has also been significant for the work that we do to connect civil society with the work and deliberations of the United Nations. Across Geneva and New York, we have had the privilege of facilitating some incredibly inspiring conversations as part of the 40th session of the Human Rights Council and the 63rd Commission for the Status of Women. The defense of women and environmental human rights defenders has been a key theme in this regard. Among other actions, we joined 163 organisations to call on states to take stronger actions to defend environmental human rights defenders and released of the policy brief, In Defense of Humanity, which proposes ways to ensure that women and gender non-conforming people are an integral part of political and economic decision-making processes.

Two weeks ago, we were awe-struck and deeply inspired as an estimated 1.5 million young people in 125 countries protested government inaction on climate change. In response, UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres has committed to holding leaders to account on “… concrete, realistic plans to enhance their nationally determined contributions by 2020, in line with reducing greenhouse gas emissions by 45% over the next decade, and to net zero by 2050.” Several CIVICUS members have played a direct role in coordinating or supporting the climate strikes. We want to know more about these efforts – and your plans to support the targeted actions needed from governments on this issue.

“Only democracy, together with science, and goodwill between nations can save us. The rest of the world must strongly support those children who are not allowed to protest” - Greta Thunberg

On a more sobering note, the terror attacks on mosques in Christchurch, New Zealand were a brutal reminder that in a hyper-connected world, we are all vulnerable to the politics of hate and must do what it takes to reclaim universal values of peace and solidarity. We hope that the International Civil Society Week 2019 in Belgrade, Serbia – with its focus on the ‘Power of Togetherness’ – will be a moment for further introspection on the opportunities we have to act decisively against the spread of xenophobic and anti-immigrant beliefs.

In solidarity,

Lysa John