In its ninth annual report on the State of Civil Society, CIVICUS in 2020 provides “a snapshot of a world that might just have changed irrevocably.” As the report was being finalized, the COVID-19 pandemic swept the globe, showing just the beginning of its impacts on civil society.
Widespread lockdowns, intended to stem the spread of the virus, brought to a halt most protests. In addition, the report explains, “crucial activities were put on hold and communities we serve became out of reach, leaving us trying to mobilise social solidarity while practising physical distancing.” Energies have been refocused on emergency response. More actions were moved online, the new norm for communication, recognizing the power imbalances presented by the digital divide. In many places, the economy was decimated.
Before the pandemic, CIVICUS found that only three percent of the world’s population “lived in countries where the core civic freedoms of association, peaceful assembly and expression were widely respected.” 2019 was marked by repressive regimes, censorship and disinformation. The anti-rights discourse got stronger, with women and LGBTQI+ people among the most targeted, often by ultra-conservative faith communities that were well-resourced, politically connected and intertwined with government bodies.
On the positive side, last year saw large-scale peaceful protests, demanding not just a change in political leadership but in the structures that continue to oppress. A youth-led movement pushed climate change to the forefront and civil society demanded that leaders pay attention. The #MeToo movement continued to spread as women found small victories in courts and elsewhere.
Looking forward and through the pandemic, the report makes several recommendations:
- respect civil rights and democratic freedoms
- rethink economies
- reach excluded people first
- renew international cooperation
- respond to the climate crisis