Coalition response
November 2020
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Articulación Feminista de Nicaragua: The role of women’s movements in building solidarity against closing civic space in Nicaragua

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The Articulación Feminista de Nicaragua is a network of over 100 organisations and individuals that works in pursuit of democracy, and the exercise of full citizenship by the Nicaraguan population.

The movement is involved in processes to find peaceful solutions to Nicaragua’s current crisis, ensuring that women’s rights are central to any potential solutions.

The Articulación has worked alongside new and emerging youth-led movements born out of the April 2018 protests and resulting national crisis. It has brought the feminist agenda into the public debate, strengthened digital activism, and deepened collaborations between different organisations focusing on democracy, justice and rights. The Articulación has contributed to enabling some youth movements and women’s movements in the interior of the country to connect to national networks and has worked to protect activists from attack in a context of severely closed civic space and repression.

Risk of physical harm
By protesting and organising, members of the Articulación risk imprisonment, where they are often subjected to violence and sexual abuse. Movement leaders face threats from the police and paramilitary groups, and as a result many have had to flee, seeking refuge in countries such as Costa Rica or Spain, an exodus resulting in significant ‘brain drain’ across the movement as the civic space has closed. Members of the Articulación have continued to protest and organise despite these risks.

Legal threats
Some feminist organisations were closed in 2018, and most groups are now under pressure because the government is constantly enacting new legislation targeting CSOs, including several recently approved repressive laws. These include the Law for Regulation of Foreign Agents, used to repress those CSOs receiving resources from international sources; a law on cybercrime, which seeks to censor digital media; and a law on hate crimes that introduces life imprisonment for political dissent, without a clear definition for what acts amount to dissent.

Pervasive machismo
By trying to alter the narrative and the ‘macho’ culture that is so pervasive throughout the country, women’s groups and feminists find confrontation not just from the state, but from their own families and communities. Sexual assault has become part of the repression experienced by activists and women, and the impunity around this must be addressed.

Sustaining coordination and engagement
Sustaining internal coordination and alliances with other movements and spaces is particularly challenging given the complexities of the context and the risks involved. The Articulación’s lack of structure or formality also makes engagement with international groups difficult, as such cooperation often requires quite rigid standards and models that do not easily accommodate social movements. It is also difficult to dedicate time to advocacy strategies vis-à-vis international feminist movements, as the Articulación is occupied with more immediate defensive and protective work. Maintaining the movement’s existence without resources or permanent support from international allies is very
challenging.

Collaboration
Youth groups have their own dynamics, and it is important to take these into account and respect their ways of working, when collaborating. Young women’s groups need their own space. The Articulación underlines the importance of strengthening other organisations and movements, rather than overriding or replacing them through the neglect of their particular objectives. They also stress the importance of engaging in dialogue with groups where there is agreement on aspects related to democracy and justice, even if these groups do not entirely align with the Articulación’s agenda. In these mixed political spaces, feminists contribute by defending the exercise of full citizenship rights, promoting the role of women as political actors.

Seizing opportunities
Narrative and cultural change take time, but movements can also take advantage of key national moments. Feminist movements were able to use the crisis to highlight the nature of the dictatorship and its detrimental effects on the country and center the narrative of peaceful protest and freedom, as opposed to one of violence and war. Young people have taken up this civic struggle, and do not see war as a way out of the political crisis.

Women’s groups are operating in a dictatorship where they are seen as enemies of the state, and so their continued existence and activities are a positive outcome in this context. They are a successful and effective movement just by virtue of continuing to operate.

Specific outcomes include:

  • Influencing the narrative and therefore the agenda. The movement has initiated a now institutionalised phrase ‘Free country to live’ to replace the long-promoted slogan of ‘Free country or die’. Feminists now have a much more visible role in terms of political participation and proposals for social change, and national media has picked up this analysis.
  • The support of vulnerable communities through continuous work that includes supporting women victims of violence, and supporting humanitarian activities across the country.
  • Securing international solidarity, through awareness-raising, preparation of reports to human rights bodies, promoting coordination of advocacy efforts with feminists in exile, and promoting solidarity for those activists who go into exile. As the movement highlights: “every text message, article, demonstration, every message of love and energy has given us strength to continue this fight for justice and the democratization of our Nicaragua.
  • The protection of activists, through legal support, security protocols, training on the international human rights system and the use of its mechanisms, and on the safe handling of information and communication technologies.

Report Date | November 2020     Type | Coalition response     Region | Americas     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

Coalition response
November 2020
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UnidOSC: How research, advocacy and capacity-building have been used to defend the space for civil society in Mexico

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UnidOSC is a coalition of organisations formed in Mexico in 2015.

It seeks to foster coordination among civil society organisations (CSOs) on the defense of rights inherent to the freedom of association, and on the construction of an enabling environment for civil society.

UnidOSC is a coalition comprised of CSOs, foundations, academics and activists interested in protecting the operational space for civil society through proactive strategic proposals designed to advance the sector, and diverse responses to new risks and challenges that arise. The coalition has provided an identity for the collective effort to defend and champion civic space in Mexico and in the region.

Galvanising a diverse range of CSOs
Some invited organisations have expressed an interest in the coalition, but have not committed to participate actively, mainly because CSO rights are frequently seen as second in importance to CSOs’ own causes. The coalition is working to expand membership for broader scope and diversity, but this remains a challenge.

Competing priorities
It can be challenging to incorporate the multiple priorities of so many different types of CSOs. To mitigate this, the Committee tries to identify the different needs of the membership and translate them into initiatives that can be of benefit to most organisations, or for those that are most vulnerable. Some regulations affect all
CSOs and cross-sector solidarity is needed
to tackle these.

Technical assistance as solidarity
UnidOSC has benefited greatly from technical assistance from international groups experts in civic space such as ICNL, ECNL, Human Security Collective, the WINGS network and others. These groups have provided technical assistance either relating to legal aspects of the enabling environment, or by sharing good practice from other countries such as strategies for digital security, or inviting UnidOSC representatives to spaces and platforms for exchange and learning. This kind of solidarity has been invaluable, and should expand.

ICSO gap
It has been difficult for the coalition to engage with more international civil society organisations (ICSOs). Whilst there might be the desire to engage on civic space at an international or secretariat level, those concerns are not necessarily shared by colleagues in ICSOs’ country offices, as their focus is often more on the cause related to their specific mission. UnidOSC has formed good relationships with some ICSOs who participate as full members, as they see the close connection between the protection of civic space on the one hand, and the work that they are mandated to do on the other. However, that link is not always clear. Some ICSOs have, however, acted as allies to the coalition, if not as full members, for
example by supporting with the dissemination of research.

  • Expertise and capacity: Although the initial campaign has not yet succeeded in reforming national CSO legislation in Mexico, the work formed the base of even more advanced legislation that has since been presented at state-level. If those reforms are adopted, it would create a precedent that could lay the ground for future national reforms. UnidOSC’s work has helped to create a feedback and solidarity loop whereby regional, national, and local advocacy initiatives can strengthen one another.

  • Access: Members have benefited from the coalition in terms of access and direct participation, including access to research, the exchange of learning, and an opening up of dialogue with multiple different authorities and stakeholders that influence the regulatory framework for CSOs.   

Report Date | November 2020     Type | Coalition response     Region | Americas     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

Coalition response
November 2020
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International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG): Working in coalition to push back against national security overreach in Canada

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The International Civil Liberties Monitoring Group (ICLMG) is a coalition of Canadian civil society organisations, established after the adoption of the Anti-Terrorism Act of 2001.

The coalition’s aim is to protect and promote human rights and civil liberties in the context of the so-called ‘war on terror’. Since its creation, ICLMG has been a platform for exchange among organisations and communities affected by the application of national security laws.

This case study looks at how this long-standing coalition has developed, and the strategies it has used to advocate for greater accountability and transparency in Canada, and to resist the overreach of national security.

Maintaining energy long-term
In being such a long-standing coalition, ICLMG sees a high turnover of representatives from member organisations engaging with the campaigns and activities. The secretariat has to serve as a shared institutional memory for the policy positions that organisations have taken, and there is a challenge inherent in having to remind members of past engagement and in encouraging renewed participation.

Maintaining funding long-term
Turnover in representatives, alongside financial constraints faced by members, has meant that maintaining a consistent and increasing level of funding takes ongoing work.

Technical nature of work
Coalition members generally recognise the importance of the work undertaken by ICLMG, but it can be challenging to translate this into support amongst the general public, particularly in order to build pressure to change laws and policies. However this presents opportunities for the coalition to think through how to articulate the problems clearly.

Value of institutional memory
Long-standing campaigns need a consistent coordination mechanism driving and leading the work. ICLMG was the only institution with a detailed memory of the key moments between 2001 and 2017, and they were able to link this important history and background to the present day work, ensuring that the learning from years of advocacy informed the demands of civil society when the opportunity to participate arose.

Common discourse is vital

At the time of ICLMG’s founding, the language and discourse around national security and civil liberties was in flux. By developing a common set of principles, policy goals and public discourse, the coalition was able to have an impact on the framing of these issues, particularly in the media.

Flexible structure
Despite existing for 20 years, the ICLMG coalition has never formally incorporated as a standalone institution. Staff has been housed and employed by several different member organisations, including Inter Pares. Likewise, the coalition’s finances have been administered by a succession of member organisations. Functioning in this way has allowed the coalition to remain responsive and agile, and allowed for coalition staff to have much needed administrative support. This places a higher level of importance on institutional memory and individual involvement.

 

  • Coalition members came to a consensus on every question in the national consultation, meaning that everyone was on the same page in their advocacy efforts.

  • The introduction of a Review Agency was finally included in the National Security Act of 2017 and the Agency was then established in 2019. Although the coalition is critical of many of the other changes brought in through the Act, for example the increasing of surveillance powers, the inclusion of the Review Agency is a success. Its introduction means there will be one body with the power to look across the collaborative work of multiple security agencies, providing greater accountability and transparency, and therefore, protection.

  • This has an impact beyond issues of rendition. There are agencies that work closely together on issues pertaining to domestic security, ranging from what is typically considered to be counter-terror activity through to the policing of protests against extraction or the policing of indigenous communities. A lack of oversight of these agencies’ collaborative work leads to a greater risk of damaging practice that could shrink civic space for progressive civic actors. The mandate of the new review agency offers the potential for deeper investigation and broader accountability, which should also act as a deterrent to agencies participating in collusion and corruption, including coordinating anti-terrorism activities with their US counterparts that may be unlawful.

Report Date | November 2020     Type | Coalition response     Region | Americas     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

ICSO mechanism
November 2020
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Plan International: Strengthening the resilience of youth-led organisations in Latin America through direct funding and mentorship

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Plan International is an independent development and humanitarian organisation that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. They work with children, young people and partners in over 75 countries across the world.

In response to shrinking civic space in Latin America – alongside the ambition to shift power dynamics and improve partnerships with youth-led organisations – Plan International initiated a pilot project to direct-fund and mentor youth-led organisations in the region with core and flexible funding to enable them to adapt to risks as they arose. This saw Plan fundamentally change its approach to supporting youth-led organisations so that they could act more independently, while Plan worked in solidarity alongside them. A risk-analysis tool on the enabling environment was created to accompany this process so that both Plan and youth-led organisations could manage closing space conditions more effectively.

Securing buy-in
It is challenging to maintain the principles of transparency and full participation. These principles are often difficult to maintain because of conflicting donor requirements. In this instance, making the case for the key difference between direct funding and supporting groups via intermediaries, and advocating for more flexibility when reporting on and auditing the funds, was a challenge. The hope is that through this project, Plan can demonstrate to donors the balance needed between accountability on the one hand, and supporting youth-led organisations and new leadership on the other. This is especially relevant in contexts of high risk where capacities need to be strengthened in order to build resilience in the face of closing space. In this case, Sida’s flexibility and ambition to strengthen civil society made the project possible.

Generational differences
There is a generational issue to overcome. Many of those working in international civil society organisations (ICSOs) have a vision for the world and for society informed by parameters and ideologies set several decades ago. This means they risk missing out on what young people see as change, in terms of political participation, trust in democracy, how to build solidarity or connect. For effective partnership and solidarity, there needs to be transparent conversations – and active listening – on what all stakeholders expect of change.

Balancing risks and rationale
It was important for Plan to be able to articulate why it wanted to work with youth-led organisations. This connects to risk analysis, and how far an ICSO will go when acting in solidarity with youth. Without answering this question, an ICSO risks constantly coming up against the barrier of not being willing to take that risk.

Solidarity requires courage
The support of empowered staff at the technical level within Plan country offices was key to the success of the pilot project. Importantly, there were courageous staff willing to take on the additional challenges and risks of working more directly with and mentoring youth.

Involving the right decision-makers
Involvement of finance staff was key. Plan’s financial procedures are generally strict, with limited flexibility, and so it was necessary to have the buy-in of finance staff for a project that aimed to change the way local, youth-led organisations were supported.

Agency
Ensuring that the youth-led organisations themselves drove the project’s agenda was vital to developing Plan’s understanding of how to contribute to the strengthening of the resilience of these organisations. For example, work on sexual and reproductive rights (SRR) in Nicaragua revealed how sexual identity had become deeply politicised and how SRR were therefore a political issue. The awareness of this was important to ensure Plan could fully assess risks and responsibilities when working with youth-led organisations on those rights in that context.

Energy needs support
The pilot project revealed that although the youth-led organisations involved need opportunities to learn, alongside certain tools, most of the time they are ready to organise themselves without further intervention. ICSOs and donors have a tendency to suppress energy and leadership that is already there, as they impose northern-led systems. This energy is vital in advocating for an enabling environment for civil society more broadly – it must be strengthened through flexible support and solidarity.

  • The pilot phase of this project has now been completed and evaluated. The model is currently being scaled up across the region into a new phase that will run until the year 2024 involving 15 youth-led organisations and networks.

  • The cross-regional connections that were made, along with Plan’s international presence, contributed to the sense of solidarity between the youth-led organisations on these challenging topics.

  • Quote from the evaluation: “It is evident that Youth Organizations were strengthened from the Pilot Project. Their strengths can be seen in… the optimal use of resources and general organizational capacities. It is also evident… the maturity that Youth Organizations achieved throughout the project, their regional and national projection, and therefore their ability to have more political influence, as well as the ability to create new alliances and obtain new resources. Clearly, the Pilot was highly beneficial for all Youth Organizations and for strengthening new capacities in the people who comprise them.”

Report Date | November 2020     Type | ICSO mechanism     Region | Americas     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

ICSO mechanism
October 2019
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Greenpeace International: Developing resilience to SLAPP suits through joint action

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Greenpeace uses non-violent, creative action to pave the way towards a greener, more peaceful world, and to confront the systems that threaten our environment. It is a global network of 27 independent national and regional Greenpeace organisations, and Greenpeace International is the coordinating body for this network.

Risk-taking is part of Greenpeace’s identity and therefore central to their usual risk-management processes. However, over the last decade, a series of emergencies in different national contexts has highlighted that work was needed to ensure all local offices were aligned in their approach to ‘smart risk-taking’. This case study focuses on a uniquely proactive response from the Greenpeace offices, in relation to the threat and damage of Strategic Lawsuits against Public Participation (SLAPPs) in the USA and beyond.

Communicating civil litigation
How to communicate civil litigation in an interesting and engaging way? Not many people know about SLAPP suits, and so basic awareness raising has been difficult for this technical, legal issue.

Incentivising commitment
When Greenpeace International and GPUSA were conducting the initial outreach work with US CSOs, there was interest from others and a desire to know more, but it was hard to incentivise commitment without a more formalised structure in place. Transitioning from an informal support network to a formal structure is difficult and takes time.

Differences between coalition members
Members of a coalition have many differences. There are different risk appetites, different priorities and agendas, and different appetites for ‘political’ work or stances, all of which makes joint planning and action challenging.

Coordination is key
Although the initial conference in 2018 was helpful in terms of brainstorming and building connections, the work was slow to progress until a coordinator was brought on. The project itself was ambitious, due to its multiple functions (legal, communications, campaigns). The governance structure worked well, but the key element was a coordinator who could spot links and ensure things were done.

Enabling easier participation
It’s important early on in the life of a coalition to establish mechanisms and structures that facilitate contributions from members, for example templates for sign-ons (advocacy campaigns). Member representatives are often busy with day-to-day work, so building structures that make their participation quick and straightforward makes for easier collaboration.

Greenpeace International helped incubate Protect the Protest for 12 months, and then withdrew, leaving their Greenpeace USA office as an active member. A separate anti-SLAPP coalition has been established in France – ‘On ne se taira pas’ (We will not be silenced) – to which the Greenpeace France legal counsel has contributed. Through these collective actions and their strategies, Greenpeace as a whole is much better prepared to deal with future SLAPP suits. They are now looking to take their experience and expertise and develop similar networks in other regions, thereby continuing to strengthen their own resilience to this tactic, and that of wider civil society.

Report Date | October 2019     Type | ICSO mechanism     Region | Americas , Global     Author(s) | Sarah Pugh and Deborah Doane

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