People's Stories Advocates

State of Civil Society Report 2018
by Mandeep Tiwana
Chief Programmes Officer, CIVICUS
This year''s ''State of Civil Society'' report from CIVICUS reaches an important conclusion: even as fundamental freedoms and democratic values are being encroached upon, peaceful acts of resolute resistance by civil society give us reasons for hope.
The report encourages active citizens to join or start their own organizations, social movements and social enterprises to further rights based agendas and defend progress on human rights.
Each year, CIVICUS publishes the State of Civil Society Report, which chronicles major global developments and key trends impacting civil society. The report draws from interviews with civil society leaders at the forefront of social change from around the world and CIVICUS’ ongoing research initiatives. This year it reaches an important conclusion: even as fundamental freedoms and democratic values are being encroached upon, peaceful acts of resolute resistance by civil society give us reasons for hope.
Sobering data from the CIVICUS Monitor, a participatory platform measuring civic space, reveals serious systemic impediments on core civil society freedoms of expression, association and peaceful assembly in 109 countries and worrying attacks in many more. But many have found renewed purpose in the face of attacks on democratic values to challenge irresponsible exercise of power. In Romania, hundreds of thousands of people came forward to protest when the government tried to soft pedal on corruption. In El Salvador, after years of advocacy, a law was passed to end gold mining activities harming land, water and local communities. In South Korea, a new government borne from citizen action is seeking to forge a different kind of people-centered politics.
The report points out that everywhere we look, there are signs of citizens’ organizing and mobilizing in new and creative ways to defend democracy and fight for equality and social justice. Perhaps the most promising recent development has been the blow to gender inequality and patriarchy struck by the #MeToo and Time’s Up movements, demanding an end to sexual harassment and discrimination.
Overall, the report highlights ten key trends impacting civil society. One of them is the undermining of democratic institutions in many parts of the world. Personal rule by political leaders remains a major challenge to the rule of law. Parliamentary and judicial independence is under threat from right-wing populism in countries as diverse as India, Hungary, Philippines, Russia and the US. In many parts of the world, from Bolivia to Uganda, long-time leaders are engaging in constitutional rewriting to extend their tenures.
Recent political shifts towards mean-spirited politics are causing the notion of national sovereignty to be both strongly reasserted, and simultaneously narrowed: it’s not the people who are being seen as sovereign, but presidents and ruling elites. Multilateral institutions are correspondingly being undermined as they struggle to end violent conflict and roll back climate change. The report also points out that as the UN’s funding base has declined, it has increasingly embraced the private sector, whose role appears to be hardwired in the 2030 Agenda.
Privileging the private sector to attract additional resources could make some of the Sustainable Development Goals harder to achieve, such as those on decent work (SDG 8), income inequality (SDG 10), reducing corruption (SDG 16) and encouraging responsible consumption and production (SDG 12). Such ambitions require radical and systemic change, something businesses that benefit from current models of governance are unlikely to embrace.
The report also highlights the spread of neoliberal economic policies as a worrying trend whereby core government functions are being offloaded onto favored corporations. This is creating avenues for cronyism and corruption on a grand scale. In many countries, social safety nets and services for excluded populations are being slashed while mega businesses are incentivized through minimal regulation and tax breaks, resulting in deeply unequal societies with obscene wealth amid searing poverty.
Despite the negative trends, there are reasons for hope. The 2018 Nobel Peace Prize recognized civil society organizing led by the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). A treaty on eliminating nuclear weapons was agreed in 2017 even amidst a crisis of multilateralism, which continues today.
Moreover, civil society activists have proven their mettle as the worst of humanity has come to the fore in recent situations around the world, such as the possible genocide of the Rohingya people in Myanmar and grave violations of the Geneva Conventions in Syria and Yemen. Individuals have placed themselves in the firing line, documenting and exposing rights abuses. When devastating earthquakes hit Mexico and hurricanes struck the Caribbean, it was civil society groups that mobilized as first responders to provide succor to affected populations.
The report includes several sets of recommendations, recognizing that global challenges cannot be tackled alone by organized civil society. Democratic governments are urged to model good practice by enabling spaces for discussion, dissent and dialogue at all levels and to also resist moves to weaken human rights standards at the multilateral level. Multilateral institutions are advised to reinforce the primacy of civil society participation in decision making and to find new ways to open up spaces for direct public involvement in their activities. Progressive businesses, independent media and academia are called upon in their own interest to use their influence to champion democratic norms and make common cause with civil society in defense of human rights and shared values, by forming new alliances, sharing platforms and developing and partnering in joint campaigns.
The report urges active citizens to connect with each other locally, nationally and internationally, encouraging them to speak out and mobilize in different ways, including by supporting social justice initiatives through volunteering and offering financial and in-kind contributions. It also encourages active citizens to join or start their own organizations, social movements and social enterprises to further rights based agendas and defend progress on human rights.
Ultimately, the reports finds in myriad examples of public mobilizations that resistance works. The opportunity lies in sustaining momentum, making connections and moving beyond specific moments of defiance to a shared vision of a world where change is possible.

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All children have the fundamental right to an education
by Gordon Brown
United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education
By 2030 – the year when the world has promised to provide universal primary and secondary education for all – an estimated 800 million people will enter adulthood without the qualifications necessary for the modern labor force. Many of them will be illiterate.
On the surface, mass illiteracy seems like an evil that should be easy to eradicate. Achieving that goal requires neither a technological breakthrough nor a scientific discovery. With funding for good teachers and schools, we can provide an education for all children. We need only muster the political will to act.
And yet universal education has long eluded mankind, even when achieving it has been a globally shared objective. Today, 750 million adults – two-thirds of them women – are illiterate, and 260 million children are not in school.
Education is a basic right codified in the 1948 Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the 1989 Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was further enshrined in the 1990 World Declaration on Education for All, at a summit in Jomtien, Thailand, and then at the 2000 World Education Forum in Dakar, Senegal. Achieving universal primary education was one of the United Nations’ Millennium Development Goals for 2015, and universal education has since been included in the Sustainable Development Goals for 2030.
But, despite these commitments, the international community has yet to deliver for the world’s children. In addition to those who are not in school at all, 500 million children currently receive no more than a primary education, which itself is often inadequate. And by 2030 – the year when the world has promised to provide universal primary and secondary education for all – an estimated 800 million people will enter adulthood without the qualifications necessary for the modern labor force. Many of them will be illiterate.
In many regions of the world, educational standards fall far short of what is needed. In Africa, for example, educational outcomes today are estimated to be 100 years behind those of a typical high-income country. As a result, there is a deepening divide between the half of the world’s children who have access to a decent education and the half who do not. Whereas an earlier generation managed to travel to the moon, our generation has failed even to provide a classroom for all of the children here on Earth.
So it is time for bold, innovative action. To that end, the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, which I chaired, has launched the International Finance Facility for Education (IFFEd) as a declaration of war against mass illiteracy and the evils of child labor, child marriage, and discrimination against girls. With discrimination and exploitation denying millions of girls the basic right to attend school, universal education is the civil-rights struggle of our generation.
The Education Commission is waging this war with the most innovative financing solutions we could devise. The IFFEd is mobilizing both public and private funds, marshaling international cooperation, and leading a multinational partnership to make education accessible to all.
The IFFEd has brought universal education to the forefront of the World Bank’s plan to take development financing from “billions to trillions.” In addition to multiplying donor funding, it is supporting countries that are committed to reforming their education systems, thus ensuring that every dollar goes toward delivering concrete results. By facilitating the largest single investment in education in history, and by encouraging developing countries to spend more, the IFFEd could, over time, provide 20 million more classrooms for children around the world.
The World Bank, the Inter-American Development Bank, the African Development Bank, the Asian Development Bank, and the European Bank for Reconstruction and Development have each committed to using the IFFEd to leverage donations. And these efforts will complement the work of The Global Partnership for Education, the Education Cannot Wait fund, and UN agencies operating in the area of education – UNESCO, UNICEF, UNOCHA, and UNHCR.
By requiring governments to increase their own investments in education as a condition for receiving donor funds, the IFFEd promises to create $4 worth of additional education resources for every $1 donated. Our principal aim is to focus on the lower-middle-income African, Asian, and Latin American countries where the majority of out-of-school children – many of them refugees – now reside. These countries are host to some 700 million children – the missing millions in the middle.
Unfortunately, less than 1% of development bank financing currently goes to education in African and Asian middle-income countries. As a result, these countries are confronted with an untenable choice: either stop sending children to school, or borrow money at much higher rates and risk accruing substantial debts.
Looking ahead, it is time for donor countries to step up and respond to our requests for financial guarantees to the IFFEd. We are currently in discussions with 20 possible contributors, underscoring the message that if we achieve universal education, per capita GDP in the poorest countries will be almost 70% higher by 2050 than if current trends continued. Extreme poverty rates will be reduced by one-third. The mortality reductions, measured in additional years of life, will be nearly equivalent to what could be expected if the world eliminated both HIV and malaria.
No less importantly, young people will be better prepared for the job market of the future. They will be in a position to become the next generation of innovators, teachers, and leaders, and all will have the opportunity to realize their full potential.
With innovative financing solutions, what was impossible has become eminently achievable. What seemed to be out of our reach is now within our grasp. Let this generation be the first in history to ensure that all children are afforded the education to which they have a fundamental right.
* Gordon Brown is the United Nations Special Envoy for Global Education and Chair of the International Commission on Financing Global Education Opportunity, he is a former Prime Minister of the United Kingdom:
* The Universal Rights Network underlines its strong support for funding directed to realise free public education for all children and young people.

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