- Source: Pexels, Ryutaro Tsukata, People walking on spacious concrete square, August 25, 2020
- Source: Shutterstock, Sharon Photo, Octagon Shape building inner court
The Funders Initiative for Civil Society brings funders together to tackle the problem of shrinking civic space.
FICS provides analysis on what is driving the attacks on civic space, tests strategic interventions, and seeks to motivate the funding community to move more resources to rights-based movements and their allies on the frontline.
Source: Shutterstock, Jessica Girvan, Protesters at a KILL THE BILL protest, London, UK, May 1, 2021
Source: Shutterstock, SGr, Soldiers marching in parade
Civic space – the physical and virtual places where people can come together freely, and speak and create without fear – is one of humanity’s most precious assets. But governments on every continent are making concerted attacks on freedom of expression, freedom of association and freedom of assembly, and they are doing this with extraordinary momentum and little joined up scrutiny. Anti-rights groups are adding to this repression and further constricting the space for action.
This shrinking of civic space is happening at exactly the point we need it more than ever. If we are to tackle the enormous crises humanity faces, from irreversible climate change to the economic and social inequalities that are pulling societies apart, we must expand civic space. Then people will be able to come together freely, work out the answers to our problems and create better futures for us all.
FICS believes that the funding community has a special role to play in enabling progressive movements to step back and view the drivers of this repression, and then develop strategies to resist it.
FICS is bringing resources and energy to new collaborations between groups on the frontline resisting government repression, those monitoring rights violations who have a bird’s-eye view, and those positioned to advocate at transnational level. We produce analysis which looks at the trends and possible openings in the contest over civic space, and we are testing and incubating strategic interventions with partners that may disrupt the forces which are trampling on civil society’s freedoms.
Source: Shutterstock, Julian Leshay, Protect Black Women and Girls Banner, New York, USA, July 26, 2020
- Source: Shutterstock, 100 Words, Anti government protestors push shields of riot police during rally, Bangkok, Thailand, November 24, 2021
- Source: Pexels, Yew Hui Tan, Red Balloon on Green Grass Field, July 03, 2021
There has been recognition for some time that counter-terrorism laws and frameworks instituted over the last two decades have failed to adequately build in human rights protections. It has also been observed that many governments have used the pre-emptive terrorism mandate to repress all kinds of opponents, and have in particular created hostile environments for NGOs, activists and social movements. Populists, including far right and religious right groups, have seized on and amplified fear and hate narratives that support their agendas. And private business has benefitted as those who would challenge them face repression.
But the response to this from the international community, including funders, has tended to be a ‘downstream’ one of assistance and spotlighting of human rights defenders when they are already facing arrest and worse.
At FICS we recognise that progressive social movements need space and time to strategise and build resistance to the attack on their organising spaces. We hope to enable these movements and their allies, including the funding community, to find the best ways to tackle not only the downstream harassment, arrests and abuse of civil society, but its upstream drivers. We seek to motivate the funding community to move more resources to rights-based movements for this task. We believe networking and collaboration here are key.
FICS spoke to more than 150 civil society representatives and funders working across the globe on human rights, equalities, climate change, land rights, corporate power and technological threats, to develop a unique analysis of the systemic drivers of shrinking civic space.
Our analysis, Rethinking Civic Space, lays out how the abuse of counter-terrorism laws and policy, intertwined with increasingly concentrated economic power and threats to democracy and pluralism from regressive political forces has put the shrinking of civic space on a full force trajectory.
FICS concludes that – responding only after activists are under attack is not enough. Civil society organisations urgently need resources to disrupt over-reaching security frameworks, create narratives which value pluralism and equality, and hold economic power in check.