By Jovana Jovanovska Kanurkova, general secretary, NNHT
Formed in early 2014, the National Network Against Homophobia and Transphobia (NNHT) is the first and only network of 20 civil society organizations working on Lesbian, Gay Bisexual, Transgender and Intersex people (LGBTI) rights in North Macedonia. The main goal of the network is to jointly advocate for the advancement of the situation of the human rights of LGBTI+ people in our country.
As an informal network, NNHT has struggled over the years to get funding in order to conduct its work and activities, particularly as non-formal networks are rarely recognized and supported by donors. The network members have managed to include activities of the network in their own ongoing projects over the years, making this network operational during the past 7 years.
In 2020, NNHT had the chance to participate in a program and receive support for improving the internal functioning of the network, including its transparency and accountability towards the LGBTI movement, as well as the general public. As part of this program, NNHT representatives attended a Transparency and Accountability workshop organized by the Balkan Civil Society Development Network (BCSDN), where they were introduced to the Global Standard for CSO Accountability and its 12 commitments. As a result of this workshop, NNHT had an opportunity to conduct a self-assessment of the network in terms of compliance with the 12 commitments of the Global Standard and identify areas for improvement.
For NNHT, this workshop was a great chance to discover new ways on how the network can improve in terms of its own accountability, which is something the network had not paid sufficient attention before. Since NNHT’s strategy over the last couple of years has been focused on advocacy for advancement of LGBTI rights in the country, our main emphasis is around commitment 7 of the Global Standard on Advocating for fundamental change, that reminds us that our advocacy work has to be based on evidence and informed by the views of affected people.
In the last couple of years, the shifting country context opened up new possibilities, so the network efforts geared towards advocacy, for which information became a key asset for engaging credibly on this topic with key stakeholders. Given that all of our member organizations work on different topics related to the LGBTI community, there is significant information-sharing across the network. Some of our member organizations conduct research on LGBTI related topics, and/or prepare joint national, regional and international monitoring reports and briefings on the situation of LGBTI rights. Other member organizations provide direct legal aid and other services to the LGBTI community, which enriches the data collected and made available within the network.
The Global Standard’s commitment 7 also reminds us that we have to use a variety of advocacy strategies, which may require cooperation with multiple stakeholders. NNHT’s advocacy work includes contributing to legal reforms through participation in working groups, and/ or issuing legal opinions on LGBTI rights. For some specific issues which might face some resistance from authorities, NNHT engages with EU institutions, international bodies and embassies, as well as organizes meetings with key stakeholders. The support from insiders (or ‘internal’ reformers) is equally important when advocating for change regarding the conditions of LGBTI people. With support from our network members, NNHT decided to actively embark in an advocacy campaign to set up the first multi-party parliamentary group for advancing the human rights of LGBTI people in the Parliament of North Macedonia in 2018. The collaboration between this parliamentary group and NNHT has proven to be a great success, so our advocacy efforts rely on this group of MPs for strengthening the legal framework on LGBTI issues.
In conclusion, NNHT advocacy is focused on systematic change driven by our desire to improve the life of one of the most vulnerable communities in our country. The Global Standard for CSO accountability represents an opportunity to improve and to systematize our own practices, extracting lessons learned that be useful also to other organizations and networks.