Governments Failing to Create Favourable Conditions for Civil Society- New Report

The global civil society network, CIVICUSA new index published by the global civil society network, CIVICUS, shows that many governments around the world are failing to keep their promise to create an environment that allows citizens to mobilise and participate in civil society.

“Despite countless promises from governments that they will protect civil society, the majority of citizens around the world live in environments in which they do not have the capacity to participate freely and fully in the activities, organisations and movements that seek to better their lives and improve their societies,” said Dr Danny Sriskandarajah, CIVICUS Secretary-General.

Evidence from around the world suggests that the conditions for civil society are far from perfect. The CIVICUS `Enabling Environment Index’ (EEI) is the first rigorous attempt to measure and compare the conditions that affect the potential of citizens to participate in civil society and ranks the governance, socio-cultural and socio-economic environments for civil society in 109 countries.

“In recent years we have seen popular uprisings from the Arab Spring to the Occupy movement, but we have also seen far too many crackdowns on the ability of citizens to mobilise. We wanted to create a tool that helps understand the conditions facing civil society in different parts of the world. Our index also helps identify countries where special attention needs to be paid to strengthening civil society by the international community,” said Sriskandarajah.

New Zealand tops the list, followed by Canada, Australia, Denmark and Norway while the Democratic Republic of Congo has the worst rated EEI, followed by Uzbekistan, Iran, Burundi and the Gambia.

“It is worrying that countries such as Ethiopia (8th lowest) and Vietnam (10th lowest) that have received substantial development assistance and are often praised by the international community for their economic performance have such poor environments for civil society. Either donor governments and financial institutions have not found ways to improve conditions for a vibrant civil society or are actively turning a blind eye to repressive measures.”

“The three worst ranking African countries – DRC, Burundi and the Gambia – are heavily dependent on aid flows. This  means that donors have an important lever to improve conditions if they chose to use it, whether it is by working with governments or by directly supporting local civil society,” stated Sriskandarajah.

Co-author of the report, CIVICUS Research Officer, Ciana-Marie Pegus cautions that the EEI currently has limitations as it looks at long-term factors that create the conditions for healthy citizen engagement and is not necessarily indicative of current events.

“There certainly is no civil society utopia. In many countries with high EEI scores, we have seen recent funding cuts for civil society and instances of repression in others. For example, in Canada, which ranks second on the EEI, government-civil society relations have been strained due to reports of active undermining of sections of civil society,” said Pegus.

“We know that democracy is only sustainable when citizens are free and able to connect and mobilise and this is the first attempt to measure and compare the conditions for citizen participation. So while it’s a work in progress, we hope the EEI will be used as tool that will generate debate on the conditions that are fundamental to the freedoms we all cherish,” concluded Pegus.

The Enabling Environment Index supplements CIVICUS’ ongoing efforts to track threats to civil society, ranging from restrictive legislation to politically motivated prosecution of activists to physical attacks and intimidation of human rights defenders.

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