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Civic Space – The Space to be Heard

Women's presence in Tahrir Square during a protest against the Military Trial for civilians. (Credit: Myriam Abdelaziz/Oxfam Novib)

At a glance

Civic Space is vital to safeguard people's right to speak out, to organize and to influence and shape decisions that affect their lives.

Overview

Mobilizing the power of people to overcome poverty and injustice is at the heart of Oxfam's mission and vision. To realize this vision, people need space to speak out and organize against injustice and the root causes of poverty, without fear of repercussions. Yet civic space, as the oxygen for people's voices, and vital prerequisite for a rights-based approach to development, is currently shrinking on a global scale.

People in many countries around the world face serious restrictions and repression when exercising their basic rights. This includes citizens who raise their voices against corruption and political dysfunction, organizations that save lives and provide basic services to people in need, communities that defend their sustainable livelihoods and demand a fair share of natural resources, and activists who fight for gender justice. In 109 countries, civic space is closed, repressed or obstructed and only 4% of the world's population live in countries with open civic space.

Oxfam works together with allies and partners around the world to protect and expand the space for all people, and especially for marginalised groups, to speak out, assemble and organise on issues that matter to them, without fear of repercussions. We are determined to reverse the global trend of shrinking civic space and to create new, more inclusive, spaces in which people can freely express their identities, negotiate common solutions and hold power-holders accountable for the realization of people's rights. We believe that it is the diversity and vibrancy of civil society that has the potential to create a future that benefits everybody, and not just the privileged few.

Key Strategies

We work to protect and expand space through four key strategies that we combine into an integrated approach, depending on the country context.

Mobilising people's support

We work with our partners around the world to build strong links with citizens and promote positive narratives on the value of civic space and human rights that resonate with the concerns of people.

Strengthening civil society

We build and work in broad-based alliances with diverse civil society actors at global and local levels to develop common strategies, strengthen our accountability structures and adopt creative approaches to remain effective in contexts of shrinking spaces.

Influencing legal and political space

We employ dedicated strategies, combining public advocacy and influencing behind the scenes and involving a variety of stakeholders across local, national and global levels to influence legal reforms on civic space and to build political support for citizen participation.

Upholding global norms and accountability

We urge global and regional actors and institutions from the Global South and North to uphold global norms on civic space and to hold them accountable for their global commitments on civic space.

Key Resources & Alliances

Key Resources

 

Civic Space Monitoring Tool

This tool can be used to analyse different dimensions of civic space at local and national level. It provides a monitoring framework to understand what is happening in civic space, track trends and highlight priority areas that need addressing. This analysis can be used to inform decision-making, strategy definition, programming and risk management on the issues related to civic space.

Space to be Heard: Mobilizing the power of people to reshape civic space

This paper outlines the analysis and strategic focus which inform Oxfam's contribution to the global defence of civic space and sets out four key changes that we believe are necessary to reclaim and create it.

 

Key Alliances

 

VUKA! Coalition

A coalition for greater coordination of efforts to foster new forms of organising to protect and expand civic space and to increase resilience of civic actors.

CIVICUS

An international alliance seeking to strengthen citizen action and space for civil society around the world. We collaborate for knowledge-sharing, advocacy on shrinking civic space and protecting of civic space.

ICNL

International Center for Not-for-Profit Law: specialises in research, analysis and monitoring of civic space as well as providing training on legislation and legislative frameworks.