Civil society, by definition, includes every and any citizen practicing their fundamental rights with the aim of having a positive impact in their community or amongst wider populations and issues. However, barriers to exercising these rights, and engaging with civil society organisations (CSOs) continue to exist. In addition to repressive political contexts, in many countries we also see citizens unable to participate in or benefit from civil society due to barriers of race, class, gender, and many more. As civil society organisations, therefore, we have the responsibility to both practice and advocate for more ambitious, deeper engagement with those who have less access to our programmes. Yet to do so effectively, we must also identify and work to deconstruct the structural inequalities and oppression which limit the visibility, voice, and ultimately power of so many individuals and groups.
One of the ways to be more accountable to our constituents is to ensure that dynamic accountability processes are embedded in all organisational practices. Yet on its own, this is not enough. Additional efforts must be made to ensure that these processes include meaningful engagement with those who are harder to reach or less able to participate. This includes horizontal, meaningful and continuous stakeholder engagement, and closing the feedback loop to include the voices of those who we work for and with – so that they can lead the decision making processes.
While there are many ways to approach this, there are no silver bullets. Countering deeply entrenched power asymmetries in our organisations and communities can be challenging work. But we hope the following examples will provide you with some ideas and inspiration for using an accountability lens to make our spaces more inclusive and empowering, whichever stage you are at on your learning journey.
Restless Development in Action
In the wake of events that sparked the Black Lives Matter protests globally, Restless Development reflected internally and committed to address injustice and the structural racism that exists within and outside of their agency, building on their existing projects which seek to counter racism, white supremacy and discrimination in our sector. Their PowerShifting series, for instance, explores the effect that power has on every aspect of development – from funding to programmes to impact – to challenge traditional, top-down development, where young people and communities are reduced to ‘beneficiaries’ instead of individuals capable of leading. Restless Development’s work through “The Development Alternative” also seeks to shift the power to local civil society organisations – check out their latest Shifting the Power research that was designed and led by young researchers from Iraq, Lebanon, Madagascar and Uganda.
Furthermore, despite the onset of the pandemic, Restless Development have continued to prioritise the implementation of their inaugural diversity and inclusion (D&I) strategy. All of their nine hub countries have produced D&I action plans adapted to Covid-19 to put inclusivity at the heart of everything they do. Over the past four months, as an expression of solidarity and youth power, Restless Development’s youth power panel have also been bringing young people together from all over the world, to connect and share ideas around how to cope and work effectively during the pandemic. These youth-led Solidarity Meetups are intentionally participatory in their approach, with everyone having an equal chance to speak and share with the group. The meetup topics have included a focus on the inequalities that have been exacerbated by Covid-19, young people’s ideas for ‘building back better’, and how younger and older people can come together to support each other.
Article 19 and the Mx Method
The Mx Method has been an integral part of Article 19’s strategy, operations and internal processes since 2015. The Mx Method considers the intersections between gender and other forms of identity, such as race, age, ability, nationality, ethnicity or religion. Through the Mx Method, the organisation is able to come up with creative solutions from logistical arrangements to monitoring and evaluation. For example, the organisation conducts alternative training for women if their involvement in the main training might result in exacerbating negative social stigmas; i.e if the main training runs until after dark, or is led by male trainers in dangerous contexts where otherwise female participants won’t be able or excited to participate, etc.
Through the Mx Method, and by considering the differing gender needs, Article 19 enables the inclusive participation of womxn (a welcoming term referring to all women and those affected by misogyny) and LGBTI+ people into its organisational activities. You can read more about the Mx Method in Article 19’s 2016 Annual Report (page 8), or in their 2018 Report with Accountable Now.
CIVICUS’ Diversity & Inclusion Pilot Projects
CIVICUS has in the past year supported a range of different organisations around the world to improve their D&I policies and practices, to help them address certain priority areas in their specific contexts, and enable the creation of new tools for supporting a much wider group of organisations to make progress on D&I. This process included a training module examining whether you can achieve D&I without good accountability practice (spoiler alert – you can’t 😉). Some specific success stories from the project which relate directly to enhancing engagement with and accountability to marginalised groups include:
- Uganda: Lockdown led an organisation to convene an online forum on D&I that engaged over 60 young people seven countries across the Global South to share their experiences on the ways COVID-19 is impacting the the most marginalised and vulnerable groups, discuss strategies to cope with the impacts of the pandemic, and identify ways these organisations could provide further support to their constituents in the current context.
- DRC: A new sexual harassment policy was published by a network organisation as part of a consultation to co-create a manual for the development of similar policies in other CSOs.
- Palestine: An organisation went a step further than a new policy on inclusion of people with disabilities to actively seek representatives from this group to adopt positions within its governance structures.
- Fiji: Specific conversations with deaf and disabled members of LGBTQI community enabled an organisation to better understand the particular struggles of these groups and in turn incorporate these unique experiences into their Pride Hub project to enhance its intersectionality.
- Bolivia: Inspired by training modules on feminist leadership and sexual orientation, gender identity and expression, and sex characteristics (SOGIESC), an organisation has sought to fill a gap in its knowledge about how to work with vulnerable communities by launching a call for proposals to help them co-design projects directly with these groups.
These are just a few examples of how organisations have reexamined their power and privilege and put accountability into action by enhancing inclusion across different parts of their policies and processes.
At the DACoP, we are also rethinking the ways through which we can be more inclusive. Some of these reflections have led to both small and big changes. For example, we are adding alt-text to our images to ensure that those with lower internet bandwidth can still visualise all the content we post, as well as piloting a collaborative multilingual approach to our DACoP Google Group (English, French, and Spanish) which combines members using automatic translation tools with dedicated focal points to aid quality control. In September, we’re also holding an event on digital inclusion to explore how we can ensure accountability and inclusion since so much of our work has been taken online due to COVID-19.
Let us know how we can improve our inclusivity as a community, and share your experiences with being accountable and inclusive via the DACoP Google Group. If you are not yet a member, join us to continue the discussion.