This year’s UN High-level Political Forum (HLPF) to track progress on the 2030 Agenda – the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) was particularly important to the Movement as Goal 16 – Peace and Inclusive Good Governance – was on the agenda.
(Featured photo with the star of the “Citizen-generated Data” session, 14-year-old Roslinda from Indonesia)
A top theme discussed everywhere was the declining civil space in many parts of the world. The difference this time is that there emerged concrete strategic tactics which civil society can take to expand civic space, notably:
Building inclusive alliances so that civil society can speak with one voice in negotiating with government.
Finding and nurturing champions within governmentfor civil society.
Video of the first of our two hosted events
Video of our second event – “Good Governance Starts in Communities”
Within the INGO sector, the recent conversations about localisation, resourcing and the future of civil society offer the perfect opportunity for some radical and bold thinking. As a new social renaissance emerges, there are valuable experiences and lessons to draw in from the global south.
What is driving this resurgence of collaborative citizen action?
There is a growing recognition that our collective “ubuntu” – the ties that bind us together as humans – is broken. Digital technologies and social media mean that we are more connected than ever, and yet distrust, isolation and fragmentation characterise our social condition. Increasingly, this global phenomenon has translated into political spaces, as we’ve seen with Brexit, Trump’s election and the rise of right-wing populist parties across Europe.
Societal divides are no longer as simple as north-south or “developed”-“developing”: inequalities within countries are as great as they are between them. Initiatives that set out to organise, mobilise and engage people where they are, to re-connect neighbours with each other and reignite a sense of shared purpose and possibility are crucial to countering these negative forces.
Harnessing the power of people
The world needs community weavers and bridge-builders, people and institutions who can instil hope and build power at the margins of our societies, in villages, towns, cities around the world. This new social renaissance is characterised by distributed, citizen-led networks and “relationalism” rather individualism.
Over the last twenty years, a quiet revolution has been taking place in communities around the world, often despite rather than because of the big machinery of international development aid. Community philanthropy has emerged as a way of organising, as a development strategy and as a set of institutions in countries as diverse as Brazil, Kenya, Russia and Vietnam.
These initiatives have been shaped by local context and culture, and have been led by individuals concerned about disenchantment and disengagement at the community level, frustrated by the failures of traditional development aid. They are inspired by the belief that without local resources, local leadership and local buy-in, development projects will continue to land like fireworks – to flash spectacularly and then die.
Take the question of money. Although external resources may make up part of their funding structure, these community philanthropy organisations seek to build local cultures of philanthropy – especially among ordinary people – as a good in itself. In other words, people become active citizens who are part of the solution, fostering collective action and flattening power dynamics between who gives and who receives.
Acknowledging, respecting, valuing and pooling local resources is a direct rebuke of the “beneficiary” mindset that the international development community has helped create.
Shift the power
In the last few years, this scattered and often invisible field (invisible at least in the eyes of the mainstream development sector) has started to organise itself globally, to express its collective voice as an effective alternative to a development system that has been preoccupied by scale and dominated by big institutions.
It has also become a driving force behind the #ShiftThePower movement. Participatory grantmaking, giving circles, community or affiliate funds have emerged as strategies that seek to share and shift power away from the hands of big institutional gatekeepers – regardless of whether they are in the north or south.
Pieces of the solution are already out there for those would care to look, both in terms of practice and theory. If we want to realise the vision of a flatter, networked world driven from the ground up (rather than the funding down), we will all need to join forces, in solidarity, and in the case of big institutions, that may require some fundamental re-writing of roles.
Every year, thousands of women’s rights activists from around the world converge on UN Headquarters in New York to push world leaders ever closer – inch by inch – to realizing the vision of women’s full and equal participation. This year’s 63rd session on the Commission on the Status of Women paid special attention to Social Protection.
Social Protection is one of those extremely important issues to women leaders that The Hunger Project has supported in villages around the world. It is defined as “set of policies and programs designed to reduce poverty and vulnerability by promoting efficient labor markets, diminishing people’s exposure to risks, and enhancing their capacity to protect themselves against hazards and interruption/loss of income. Social protection consists of five major elements: (i) labor markets, (ii) social insurance, (iii) social assistance, (iv) micro and area-based schemes to protect communities and (v) child protection.”
Grassroots women leaders are passionate defenders of the most marginalized members of their already marginalized communities: Widows who have been denied pensions because of corrupt beneficiary lists. Women who are harassed with impunity on farms, on the streets, in garment factories and in their homes. Girls kept out of school and forced into child labor. Take the most horrifying of the #MeToo stories you’ve heard and multiply by the hundreds of millions of girls and women exploited with little or no chance of gaining justice never mind protection.
The Hunger Project and the Movement for Community-led Development helped organize two events that emphasized the critical role of women’s leadership in community-led strategies to halt exploitation and ensure social protection in settled communities (on March 15 – link) as well as in the growing migrant populations across our world (March 12 – link).
Perhaps the most moving moment of these events was when Maurice Bloem quoted from the poem “Home” by Warsan Shire. You can hear the poet herself read it below. It is highly relevant to the painful period our world is going through today.
Concurrent to our events, in the main governmental negotiations of the Commission, world leaders agreed to a 51-point set of conclusions that reaffirm “reaffirms that the promotion and protection of, and respect for, the human rights and fundamental freedoms of all women and girls, including the right to development, which are universal, indivisible, interdependent and interrelated, are crucial for the full and equal participation of women and girls.” The Hunger Project has long recognized that integrated approaches are critical to address the multiple burdens on women, and the Commission conclusions call for integrated approaches no less than five times.
This was the first Learning Session organized by the newly-formed CLD Learning Working Group, which evolved from the Locus Learning Working Group. Co-chairs: Matt Lineal (Nuru International) and Sia Nowrojee (3D Program for Girls and Women)
Brian Viani, Leadership & Training Strategic Advisor, Nuru International, From ‘Capacity Building’ to ‘Capacity Development’: Definitions and Approaches (slide deck below for download)
The Community-led Development (CLD) Movement Launches Kenya Chapter
NAIROBI, 30 January 2018 –The Community-led Development (CLD) Movement today unveiled the CLD Kenya Chapter at the Heifer International grounds in Nairobi. The Movement is an alliance of civil societies seeking the widespread adoption of grassroots initiatives to empower communities to become the authors of their own development. CLD works to achieve systemic change through long-term, steady interventions rather than short-term projects. In Africa, Kenya follows on chapters established in Ghana, Uganda, Malawi, Benin and Burkina Faso.
The Movement was formally launched alongside the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) in 2015 in New York. Members include The Hunger Project, Global Communities, Oxfam, FHI360, World Vision and Concern Worldwide, among others. The CLD also has a presence in the United Kingdom, the Netherlands and Mexico and 10 African nations.
The CLD Kenya seeks to create strategic partnerships and explore how to make community-led development a high priority on development agendas for the Government of Kenya, development partners, the private sector and other key stakeholders.
The Kenyan Government developmental initiatives, such as the Big4 Agenda and Vision 2030, can and must be realized by empowering communities to lead their own development. Article 10 (2) a, b and c of the Constitution of Kenya provides for citizen participation, which is not yet fully realized. The CLD Kenyan Chapter will promote citizen engagement in all counties and develop the capacity of county-level civil society through coordinated action.
CLD is important for Kenya in several ways: Community engagement is grounded in the Kenyan Constitution, it will help the government achieve its goals from devolution to the Big 4 Agenda, and it is critical to Kenya’s development as it transitions to a middle-income country, to ensure no one is left behind.
While addressing the attendees, CLD Founder, John Coonrod stated: “The full success of county government can be a beacon of hope for all of Africa. The Kenya chapter has a unique opportunity to contribute to the region through the many regional offices based in Nairobi.”
Keynote speaker Makunei County Governor and Professor Kivutha Kibwana said: “Our county government system has truly put power directly into the hands of our citizens. They now have the power to voice their highest aspirations and work in partnership with government and civil society to achieve them.”
Global Communities Country Director-Kimberly Tilock added: “Development is not something you do for people but with people. It is certainly easier to just do something top down but to have lasting effective impact you need to effectively involve those that stand to benefit and have a stake in what is done and how it is done.“
Like-minded organizations and individuals are invited to join and contribute to the Movement by:
Raising the profile of community-led development in SDG-implementation discourse. To this end, Global Communities will develop a shared language for the practices, interventions and policies that enhance community-led development, and we will include this language in our internal and external communications.
Organizing and participating in seminars, events and meetings that raise the profile of our collective commitment to CLD and its principles, and our approaches to facilitate it.
Building the evidence base for community-led development, and what identifying how best to enhance it.
Documenting and sharing best practices through coordinated social media campaigns, webinars and papers on the CLD Movement website.
The final post in our series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo: United Nations.
On December 10, 1948 the newly established General Assembly of the United Nations adopted the Universal Declaration for Human Rights (UDHR).No nation voted against it, although a few, like Saudi Arabia, abstained. That means today is the 70th anniversary of what is undoubtedly the most important document of the modern era, and expressed the aspirations of a world population still reeling from the horrors wrought by fascism during World War II.
The UDHR is a political document – hammered out over two years by a Commission ‘“made up of 18 members from various political, cultural and religious backgrounds. Eleanor Roosevelt, widow of American President Franklin D. Roosevelt, chaired the UDHR drafting committee.”
The preamble begins, “Whereas recognition of the inherent dignity and of the equal and inalienable rights of all members of the human family is the foundation of freedom, justice and peace in the world,
“Whereas disregard and contempt for human rights have resulted in barbarous acts which have outraged the conscience of mankind, and the advent of a world in which human beings shall enjoy freedom of speech and belief and freedom from fear and want has been proclaimed as the highest aspiration of the common people,” (That paragraph refers to the “Four Freedoms” speech by President Roosevelt before the US entered World War II, of his vision for the Post-war world.)
If you could sum up the 16 Days of Activism in just 3 words, “freedom from fear” could be it. Not only do a huge proportion of women and girls fall victim to gender-based violence, all women and girls live in fear of it.
Many today argue (as they did in 1948) that Human Rights are not universal, but Western – and that the thought of gender equality is especially Western. But there is rich literature from every region and culture demonstrating that these ideas have been held by spiritual leaders forever.
Article One begins: “All human beings are born free and equal in dignity and rights.” It reminds many of the US Declaration of Independence – “We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal.” Apparently in the drafting stage, Mrs. Roosevelt prefered using the language “All men.” So who got it changed? It was Hansa Mehta of India.
India is a nation where the status of women is exceptionally bad, and its Women’s Rights Movement goes back more than 150 years in its struggle for gender justice. Hansa Mehta was among the 15 women who were part of the constituent assembly that drafted India’s Constitution – (which, unlike the US Constitution, establishes Equal Rights for Women), and she served as president of the All India Women’s Conference in 1945-46 where she proposed a Charter of Women’s Rights.
The Nobel Prize-winning Economist Amartya Sen – a champion of women’s rights – tells the story that men in India frequently come up to him and argue “Our Women Don’t Think This Way!” Sen’s response is – “Well, then it’s about time they had the opportunity to do so!” Certainly, however, millions of Indian women have thought that way for a long time. Had Hansa Mehta not been one of them, its likely the forces of patriarchy would point to the UDHR as a document that reinforces their misogyny.
Thirteenth in the series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo: NASA
December 7, 1972 – On the last Apollo mission to the moon, astronauts took a photo now known as the “Blue Marble” photo – very likely the most reproduced photo in history – the first ever “whole earth” photo.
As a much more recent astronaut – Karen Nyberg, the 50th woman in space — stated: “In the future, I would like to be more of an advocate for animal conservation. Every single part of the Earth reacts with every other part. It’s one thing. Every little animal is important in that ecosystem. [Seeing the planet from above] makes you realize that, and makes you want to be a little more proactive in keeping it that way. If I could get every Earthling to do one circle of the Earth, I think things would run a little differently.”
We will not all have an opportunity to go into orbit, and if Karen is right, our planet is the worse off for it. Too many of us interpret the biblical assignment of “dominion over the earth” to mean “domination” rather than “stewardship.” But we can all take action to halt both the violence against women and the violence against the Earth.
Women have been in the lead of the environmental movement from the start. Rachel Carson wrote the 1962 book Silent Spring which many credit with launching the entire global environmental movement. In fact, one of my mentors credits that book with launching women’s ongoing engagement with the UN system to force world leaders to confront global issues. Another high profile woman at the UN was the late US Congresswoman Bella Abzug who co-founded and led WEDO – the Women’s Environmental and Development Organization – which still continues that legacy today.
The Chipko Movement – known globally as the “tree huggers” in the Indian Himalayas – is an inspiring example of how indigenous (tribal) grassroots women literally put their bodies on the line to preserve the forests from government-sanctioned logging. The modern chipko movement dates to 1973, but it has a history going back, according to Indian Express, to 1730 AD when in Khejarli village of Rajasthan, 363 people of the Bishnoi tribe sacrificed their lives to save khejri trees.
There is strong theoretical background linking women’s rights and environmentalism. In 1974, the French feminist Fraçoise d’Eaubonne published her book Le Féminism ou la Mort which linked male oppression of women to oppression of the earth and coined the term Ecofeminism. In 1993, Maria Mies and Vandana Shiva published the book Ecofeminism, which carried the analysis further to critique modern science and capitalism as reflecting this same patriarchal mindset.
In his address at the second International Conference on Nutrition, Pope Francis quoted one of his mentors as having echoed a theme of gender and environmentalism – “God the Father may always forgive you, but if you damage the climate, Mother Nature will kill you!”
Gender-based violence extends beyond the brutality against women and girls, to violence against Mother Earth. We must all take action to protect her.
Fifteenth in our series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence.
December 9 is International Anti-Corruption Day. #UnitedAgainstCorruption.According to Transparency International, there are millions of courageous women fighting corruption worldwide.
The United Nations reports that “Every year $1 trillion is paid in bribes while an estimated $2.6 trillion is stolen annually through corruption – a sum equivalent to more than 5 percent of the global GDP. In developing countries, according to the United Nations Development Programme, funds lost to corruption are estimated at 10 times the amount of official development assistance.”
Public resources are scarce in the most impoverished countries, which generally have very centralized governments – sending a much smaller proportion of public resources to grassroots communities. Add corruption, and the resources for communities to achieve their aspirations becomes even less.
Member organizations of the Movement for Community-led Development invest mightily in developing the capacity of women leaders. Our experience has shown that women leaders fight for the issues that women care about most – education, health care, clean water, public safety – aspirations that are directly thwarted by government corruption.
Consider the example of Deepa Rajguru, who was elected as president of her local council (panchayat) in Rajasthan.
One of Deepa’s most successful initiatives include sanctioning 600 feet of pipeline to bring water to the panchayat, addressing land disputes for which she faced incredible opposition and threats of violence against both her and her family. Without public discussion, the panchayat had contracted with trucks to deliver water at an inflated rate, and Deepa renegotiated to save Rs 72,000 (US$1,400) of public funds.
Are women inherently less corrupt than men? Some have argued that it is too early to tell – perhaps women have simply had less time to master the arts of corruption.
Certainly, the presence of women prime ministers in South Asia has not significantly reduced corruption. These women, however, did not gain office as a result of expanded gender equality, but rather as a result of being at the head of a family political dynasty.
However, new research published in 2018 shows the reality: “In a cross-country analysis of over 125 countries, this study finds that corruption is lower in countries where a greater share of parliamentarians are women. The study further finds that women’s representation in local politics is important too — the likelihood of having to bribe is lower in regions with a greater representation of women in local-level politics in Europe.”
Member organizations of the Movement for Community-Led Development have strong “Zero Tolerance” policies against corruption. Our commitment is to restore people’s control over their own lives and destinies. Corruption is a barrier to that fundamental human right which must be ended.
Fourteenth in my series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo – public domain – of the painting by Francisco Rizi.
December 8 is observed by some Christians as the “Feast of the Immaculate Conception” and honors Mary, the mother of Jesus of Nazareth. Mary plays a major role in both the Christian New Testament and in the Holy Koran.
Throughout the ages, religion has been twisted to justify a broad spectrum of ungodly behavior – and perhaps most tragically – violence against women. From the Salem Witch Burnings of 1693, to ritual suicide of widows in India (Sati) to the kidnapping and rape of school girls in Nigeria – some of humanity’s worst behavior has been done in God’s name.
If you are reading this, you would probably agree that violence against women and girls in all forms is “an abomination in the eyes of the Lord.”
But is God feminist? That’s actually a fascinating question.
First – what is a feminist? Is it merely someone who believes in gender equality? No. It requires the recognition that inequality is not simply an accident of history – it is based on intentional injustice that must be countered. As my college dorm-mate, the feminist bell hooks wrote in Feminist Theory: From Margin to Center: “‘Feminism is a movement to end sexism, sexist exploitation, and oppression.”
Ten years later, she expanded on that definition in Feminism is for Everyone, “I love [that definition] because it so clearly states that the movement is not about being anti-male. It makes it clear that the problem is sexism. And that clarity helps us remember that all of us, female and male, have been socialized from birth on to accept sexist thought and action. As a consequence, females can be just as sexist as men. And while that does not excuse or justify male domination, it does mean that it would be naive and wrong minded for feminist thinkers to see the movement as simplistically being for women and against men. To end patriarchy (another way of naming the institutionalized sexism), we need to be clear that we are all participants in perpetuating sexism until we change our minds and hearts, until we let go of sexist thought and action and replace it with feminist thought and action.”
Second – what is God? There is today a movement within virtually every religious tradition known as Feminist Theology. There is a website – “Feminist Theology 101” – that I highly recommend. Its authors emphasize that Feminist Theology is a “highly diverse ‘umbrella’ term, and we revel in the diversity.” And the site emphasizes that “feminist theological scholars seek to address the social problems and structures of oppression of their day.”
My personal introduction to this subject was while in college when another school friend wrote her thesis on female aspects of divinity with “Mary and Isis.”
But it became even more interesting about 15 years ago in a conversation in Bangladesh with one of The Hunger Project’s local volunteers who explained to me – with great confidence – that Islam IS the religion of women’s liberation. She understood the Koran to say that women were three times more powerful than men, and that all the current misogyny among current practitioners is left-over from pre-Islamic Arabic culture.
Certainly, every concept of the divine I’m aware of appears to reflect our deepest aspirations for compassion, justice and equality. That spells feminism to me.
Twelfth in a series for 16 Days of Activism Against Gender-based Violence. Photo by by ZhengZhou of the sculpture “Non-Violence” by Carl Fredrik Reuterswärd, in front of UN headquarters at New York City.
December 6, 1989 was the Montreal massacre – a mass shooting at the École Polytechnique specifically targeting feminists. Since then, December 6 has become a National Day of Remembrance, and has mobilized the Canadian gun control movement as well as the movement to end male violence against women. Their activism led to Canada’s federal government establishing the Panel on Violence Against Women in August 1991, and passage of Bill C-68, or the Firearms Act, in 1995, ushering in stricter gun control regulations.
This spirit of remembrance and activism is continued by the “White Ribbon Campaign” in which men wear a white ribbon as a “pledge to never commit, condone or remain silent about violence against women and girls.”
TheTrace.org is a non-profit news service on gun violence in the United States. It provides a fact sheet – 12 Facts That Show How Guns Make Domestic Violence Even Deadlier. It states “domestic violence claims at least 2,000 lives each year. Seventy percent of the victims are women. More than half of the time, the weapon used to carry out an ‘intimate partner’ homicide… is a gun.” When guns are involved in domestic violence, they also kill numerous children as well as the police responding to the incidence.
Clearly, there is a link between overcoming the toxic masculinity that finds a misguided security in keeping handguns in the home, the importance of common-sense gun safety legislation and developing a culture of gender justice that respects the human rights of every woman and girl. On this National Day of Remembrance – whether Canadian or not – we can each learn more on how we can transcend patriarchy in our communities and our world.