Governance and Citizenship

Sotzil community in Guatemala, where Oxfam-partner CONIC worked to support the rights of indigenous people. Credit: Annie Bungeroth/Oxfam

Unequal power relations perpetuate and underpin poverty and need to be addressed both at the institutional level and within the complex norms and customs of each society.

We believe that most marginalized people have the capacity to contribute to decision making processes affecting their lives and hold those in positions of power to account to meet their obligations to respect and protect the rights of poor people. Often through youth-led or women's movements, asserting our rights can lead to positive societal change in the face of economic volatility, social inequality, corruption and conflict, especially where corporate and political institutions are weak. Yet these rights are at risk in many parts of the world, making women, youth, and their organizations especially vulnerable.

Our goal

Oxfam strives to support people and their organisations to claim their human rights, in a supportive and secure environment.

We create spaces for change with alliances and people's movements and constructively connect communities to decision-makers and influencers, ensuring we are ourselves accountable and transparent to the people and organisations with whom we work.

Oxfam grounds all of its work in strengthening the ability of people living in poverty to demand and defend their rights. Supporting civil society is an important part of our work to help people in their own struggle for justice and equality.

Critical to ensuring citizens have voice is ensuring an enabling environment exists and there is sufficient political space for civil society organisations to operate. This civil society space is under threat in many countries in which Oxfam works. We work we work with citizens, civic organisations, local and national governments to improve people's access to essential  services such as health, education and water.

Key strategies

Supporting people to raise their voice and claim their rights

  • We help to build the capacity of civil society organisations, including NGOs, social movements, unions and communities to know and demand their individual and collective rights.
  • See more on the Raising Her Voice project which aims to influence public policy, decision-making, and expenditure to reflect the interests of women from poor countries.

Ensuring that power-holders are responsive and transparent

  • Oxfam has a strong role in establishing and strengthening coalitions and national NGOs that work at the grassroots, bringing evidence from the ground and leveraging approaches and tools to promote accountability of those in power (both state and informal power-holders). See more on the Within and Without the State project which aims to improve governance in fragile and conflict affected states.
  • We also help build the capacity of governments at local, national, and international level to be accountable and fulfil the needs of people living in poverty.
  • We facilitate negotiation between citizens and the state for sustainable change. These will be different in different countries, such as rights for indigenous peoples or for people working in small-scale fishing.

Building and protecting spaces for change

  • Oxfam has a role in ensuring voices of civil society and other actors (including state, private sector, unions and others) can be freely heard, in an open and safe environment.

Oxfam has a facilitation role to ensure dialogues are inclusive, have gender balance and agendas are set in a participatory and constructive way.

Campaigns and advocacy

  • We work with others to enhance skills of civil society organisations to advocate for the rights of poor men and women and to track government delivery of resources and implementation of pro-poor policies. 
  • Oxfam believes that a percentage of aid flows should be channelled to civil society organisations, to enable people to better hold their governments to account.

Related projects