Today is Blog Action Day (as if you didn’t know) and this year’s theme is ‘raising your voice’. That resonates with me for both positive and negative reasons.
On the negative side, in dozens of developing countries it’s getting a lot more dangerous to raise your voice, if what you say is not congenial to the government. States are busily swapping notes on how best to undermine and suppress civil society organizations – Ross Clare and Araddhya Mehta recently discussed the reasons for this crackdown on civil society space on this blog.
Our power as INGOs to prevent this happening is constrained, not least because we are being portrayed as part of the problem – the evil genius imperialists supposedly manipulating local CSOs. So if we just shout about oppressive governments we could end up sounding like the caricature. But we can box cleverer than that – I recently pointed out that we could do far more to help local CSOs boost their capacity to raise funds locally, and thereby reduce their dependence on foreign donors. I think we could also be much more proactive in terms of quiet diplomacy with our governments, who often share our concerns about what is happening.
On the positive side, some of the work on the ground on raising voices is truly inspiring. In particular, I recommend the Raising Her Voice programme on women’s empowerment. One of the interesting aspects of that work is that it’s not enough to talk about empowerment and voice in terms of the formal, visible arena of governments, policies, decisions and spending, which so often consume the attention of advocates and campaigners. We also need to learn from the women’s movement and address the question of ‘invisible power’ and norms – the things expected and believed of different kinds of people, what is defined as right and wrong, natural and unnatural, not just at local level but across the whole society. The cultural air we breathe. This determines, for example, whether women in poor communities see themselves as having the right to speak out, and to expect others to listen.
Here’s the link to the Raising Her Voice global programme, linking women’s empowerment work in 17 countries. I also did some case studies on its work and theory of change, both globally, and in Nepal and Pakistan. RHV activists are themselves all too familiar with the closing of civil society space, as this example from Honduras shows.
And here’s a nice animation describing RHV, from the RSAnimate people
Wishing you a happy (and preferably noisy) BAD……