Inclusive societies without civic space?

A seminar on the global trend of shrinking space for civil society and implications for achieving the Sustainable Development Goals.


 

Inclusive societies and multi-stakeholder partnerships are key dimensions of the 2030 Agenda. Nevertheless, in 2015, the same year as the Agenda was universally adopted by 193 Heads of States, civil society in more than half of those countries faced violations of civic rights. What are the implications of shrinking civic space on the implementation of the Sustainable Development Goals?

In this panel discussion experts delved into this issue from their different perspectives, following a brief presentation of Forum Syd’s forthcoming study on the trends of shrinking civic space.

Speakers:

  • Annika Ben David, Ambassador for Human Rights, Swedish Ministry for Foreign Affairs

  • Alexandra Wilde, Senior Research and Policy Advisor, UNDP Oslo Governance Centre

  • Emelie Aho, Policy Advisor, Forum Syd

  • Karin Fällman, Senior Policy Specialist, Civil Society Unit, Sida

The discussion was moderated by Matilda Hald, Programme Manager, Agenda 2030, Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation.

The event forms part of the seminar series “Implementing Agenda 2030”, jointly organised by the Dag Hammarskjöld Foundation and UNDP Sweden, this time in cooperation with Forum Syd.


Background

Inclusivity is a recurring concept in the 2030 Agenda and several of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) specifically stress inclusion as part of the desired outcome.*  The process of defining a post-2015 agenda has been considered the most inclusive process in the history of the UN. The vast consultations – with civil society and the private sector – resulted in a universal Agenda, inclusive of all countries and all sectors of society, and framed as an action plan that should “leave no one behind”.

Broad civil society involvement in SDG implementation and partnerships are necessary to reach marginalised groups and guarantee inclusive processes and outcomes. In addition, the non-binding nature of the Agenda, the lack of strong international accountability mechanisms and the increasing focus on private sector engagement in development, call for a vibrant civil society that can exercise its democratic functions as watchdog, advocate and opinion-former.

However, the reality for civil society tells a different story. Increasing violations of rights that are fundamental to civil society action, including freedom of association, freedom of assembly and freedom of expression, indicates a negative global trend. Between 2012 and 2015, more than 120 laws restricting civic rights were implemented or proposed in 60 countries, and threats to civic freedoms occurred in at least 109 countries during 2015. Coupled with financial constraints of civil society actors, the restrictions put on civil society organising and action severely challenge the path to inclusive societies.

Where and how do civil society organisations experience shrinking civic space? What is being done about it by bilateral donors and international actors? Can the 2030 Agenda be better used as a framework to guarantee and strengthen civic space?

* Goal 3 calls for inclusive education, goal 8 for inclusive growth, goal 9 for inclusive industrialisation, goal 11 for inclusive cities, and goal 16 for peaceful and inclusive societies.