But in the last few years the field appears to have been thrown wide open, and new collaborations are being forged between all sorts of global civil society actors, from different regions, levels and fields. The excitement is palpable. There will undoubtedly be friction and misunderstanding between these different actors in coming years, but this will hopefully lead to a more explicit understanding of each other’s points of departure, strengths and weaknesses.
While social forum sessions have all the advantages and drawbacks of embedding economic and social rights activism in a much wider movement, a specific network on economic and social rights has also recently been founded. The International Network for Economic, Social and Cultural Rights (ESCR-Net) was officially inaugurated in June 2003, after years of deliberation, with a founding conference attended by 250 activists from over 50 countries. ESCR-Net is primarily a facilitating platform rather than a campaigning coalition (ESCR-Net URL).
Its traditional insistence that human rights were above politics, so useful during the cold war, was getting in the way of gaining a political voice. Enemies in the form of traditional dictatorships, left and right, were fast disappearing from the scene, whilst human rights values were being embraced by controversial new friends. New demands were being made on the human rights mandate: to take up abuses by armed groups, by corporate actors, by men upon women in the private sphere, as well as to embrace economic and social rights. The human rights movement is still sorting its way through this expanded agenda. Moreover, human rights organisations had become very professionalized and legally oriented. The activists forming a human chain around the centre of Birmingham to protest against Third World debt in May 1998 and the lobbyists pushing to establish an international criminal court at a UN conference in Rome a month later, for instance, had little or nothing in common in terms of tactics or networks.
The early social justice movement
The anti-globalisation or anti-capitalist movement, now definitively rebranded as the global social justice movement, famously burst on the scene at the World Trade Organisation meeting in Seattle in 1999. As discussed in many places, it had roots in anti-imperialist thinking and specific struggles in the South such as the Zapatista uprising and the Ogoni movement, as well as in environmental and labour rights movements in the North. While the mix of groups and intellectual traditions was rich, human rights activism was remarkably absent from it. For instance, neither the anti-Bank coalition 50 Years is Enough nor the loose anti-corporate and anti-WTO network Peoples Global Action had any participation from human rights groups, or, for that matter, from specialised economic and social rights groups (50 Years is Enough URL; Peoples’ Global Action URL).
Brick walls: the unconverted
The United States, historically one of the staunchest opponents of economic and social rights, remains one of a handful of states that has not ratified the Covenant, on the basis that ‘these are not rights but aspirations’. Under the Bush Administration, any specific objections to economic and social rights have become rather obscured by its record on civil and political rights, particularly in relation to ‘the war on terror’. But domestically in the United States, economic and social rights are gaining friends and prominence, against relatively little resistance, as they have elsewhere. A new human rights coalition founded in 2003, whose members range from international groups like Amnesty, Human Rights Watch and CESR to major domestic groups like the American Civil Liberties Union, the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People and the American Friends Service Committee, has the advancement of economic and social rights as one of its core principles (Lobe 2003). Grassroots groups such as the Kensington Welfare Rights Union (URL), an organisation of the homeless, and the affiliated University of the Poor (URL), are also using economic and social rights language and making transnational connections.
In preparation for the 1995 World Summit for Social Development in Copenhagen, a coalition of disparate, especially Southern, groups, again funded by Novib, collaborated in a bid to get states to make concrete commitments on economic and social issues. After much discussion, especially virtual discussion via the nascent Alliance for Progressive Communications (APC) network, the coalition came to employ a ‘merger between a “rights-based” approach and a macro-economic approach’, out of which the Social Watch network was born (Van Reisen 2000). This network, as the name suggests, takes the human rights tradition of monitoring state performance according to specific benchmarks into the social development realm (Social Watch URL).
From the mid-1990s, global mainstream human rights organisations slowly and gingerly began to take up the economic and social rights agenda. Some, such as the International Commission of Jurists, have always supported them at an abstract level, but devote relatively little attention to them. Others, such as Human Rights Watch, gradually incorporated more work on economic and social rights into their daily practices, but maintain a very narrow view on what is appropriate economic and social rights advocacy for an organisation such as theirs (see Box 3.4). Amnesty International finally and famously incorporated economic, social and cultural rights into its mandate in 2001. The organisation still considers itself to be in a learning phase in relation to economic and social rights, and is only gradually expanding its focus from ‘respect’ violations directly connected to earlier campaigns on civil and political rights, such as for instance the denial of access to work, health and education that has resulted from the building of the wall in the Palestinian Occupied Territories (Amnesty International 2005).
In the NGO field, the foundation of FIAN was followed in 1987 by Habitat International Coalition, which transformed itself in that year from a rather lifeless federation of housing corporations and local authorities into an organisation committed to the right to adequate housing, based in the South and focused on lobbying at the UN (Habitat URL). It was followed in 1992 by the establishment of the Centre on Housing Rights and Evictions (COHRE) and in 1993 by the establishment of the Center for Economic and Social Rights (CESR), founded by recent Harvard graduates in New York. All have grown from kitchen-table initiatives into medium-sized international NGOs. In their wake have come hundreds of other, mainly domestic, organisations working specifically in the area of economic and social rights.
Deepening and widening the focus on economic and social rights
In academia, the Limburg Principles sparked innumerable articles and a spate of doctoral dissertations, constituting a new field of expertise within human rights scholarship. This began to address objections against economic and social rights as ‘too vague’, ‘too costly’, or ‘not amenable to judicial review’. The objection often raised against the justiciability of economic and social rights – namely, that the Covenant allows the rights to be ‘progressively realised’ rather than immediately guaranteed – was met with the notion that each right has a ‘minimum core content’ (and a related, operationalised and context-dependent ‘minimum threshold’) that does require immediate implementation. Shue’s tripartite division of obligations was elaborated for different rights, and supplemented with another categorisation into ‘four A’s’: food, health or housing must be available, accessible, acceptable and adaptable. Again, there are variations on this theme. More recently, scholars have taken their cue from activists’ work by transferring their focus from the nature of the obligations to a ‘violations approach’, working outwards from the most egregious violations.
It may well be too early to pass judgement on outcomes. At present, global civil society’s response is in the balance, and the medium to long-term outcome will depend on how it manages to resolve the following issues:
- What are the limits of global civil society’s intervention in national state–civil society relations?
- Can global civil society intervene effectively in areas where global terror groups are active?
- Can global civil society accommodate cross-border value conflicts?
- Are the causes terror groups espouse invalidated by their use of terror?
- Does global civil society now require the development of global state institutions to meet the threat of cross-border terror?
Environmental groups have also sought to mobilise counterparts in other movements such as groups working with indigenous peoples and development NGOs, where there is an increasing coalescence of interests. The development community, in particular, has been relatively silent on the climate-change issue until recently. Moves are now afoot to engage donors in a conversation about the need to mainstream climate change objectives in aid programming in order to avoid exposing the poor to enhanced vulnerability as a result of climate change. The challenge is to urge international development actors to ‘recognise climate change as one of the greatest risks to poor people – a force capable of literally “undoing” decades of development’ (Pettit 2004: 102). Despite the ongoing reluctance of donors to seriously engage with the issue to date, one indication of change has been a recent report by donors on Poverty and Climate Change, which calls for ‘steps towards mainstreaming climate issues into all national, sub-national and sectoral planning processes such as Poverty Reduction Strategies or national strategies for sustainable development’ (World Bank Group 2003: xi). Groups have been more successful in raising awareness amongst development NGOs that have become more involved as evidence mounts of the impacts of climate change on the poor in the form of floods, droughts and other ‘natural’ disasters. Groups such as the UK-based Christian Aid and Tear Fund have made their voices heard, issuing reports and statements at the climate meetings (Tear Fund 2004).
4. There are patterns of divergence as well as convergence among civil society groups working on climate change. Although there is evidence of a basic unity of purpose among those groups examined here seeking further action on the issue of climate change, this broad overarching objective conceals enormous diversity in agendas and strategies. Although at times this (sometimes rightly) gives an impression of conflict and incoherence, diversity can also be considered a strength of the NGOs and social movements working on climate change. This is true in part because of the broad spectrum of actors and policy processes that have to be engaged with in the climate change debate. But diverse strategies can also reinforce one another in productive and mutually- supportive ways. Here I refer to arguments rehearsed elsewhere (Audley 1997), and in other contexts, about the way in which ‘good cop–bad cop’ strategies can serve to reinforce one another, or how combinations of cooperative and confrontational approaches provide both carrots (incentives) and sticks (sanctions). Pettit (2004: 105) nevertheless cautions that ‘The “insider-outsider” approach can only work if there are elements of a common vision and objective, but not if the campaigns are working at cross purposes or worse, attacking each other’.
The Inuit people of Canada and Alaska (the Inuit Circumpolar Conference) have adopted a strategy of litigation threatening, alongside the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL), to file a petition with the Inter-American Commission on Human Rights in 2005 against the Bush administration for posing a climate-related threat to their survival. A briefing circulated at COP10 in Buenos Aires stated: ‘It is not an exaggeration to say that the impacts are of such a magnitude that they ultimately could destroy the ancient Inuit culture’ (EarthJustice and CIEL 2004). Responsible for approximately 25 per cent of global emissions, the US is targeted because of its failure to reduce emissions that have contributed substantially to the impacts felt by indigenous communities (see Box 3.6).
Within civil society: alliances, fissures and the politics of consensus building
In the North, civil society has concentrated on climate change more exclusively as an environmental issue by environmental NGOs and researchers and has focussed on scientific and technical solutions such as emissions controls and carbon credits. In the South, however, climate change emerged primarily as a sustainable development issue, whose solutions are seen as inseparable from larger issues of poverty, trade and globalisation. (Pettit 2004: 102)
The ways in which civil society groups have sought to engage and work with one another have changed over the course of the international community’s response to the threat of climate change. Early episodes of conflict and misunderstanding, often resulting from insensitivities borne of inequities between groups, partly though not exclusively along North-South lines, have given way to more inclusive decision-making and organisational arrangements characterised by the CAN network. As noted above, structural inequalities such as the under-representation of Southern groups at international meetings, which means that their voices are effectively screened out of global debates by resource barriers, as well as institutional structures which privilege organised inputs from civil society, continue to be important (see Box 3.5). Many of the conflicts over policy agendas and preferences transgress these divides, however, and are explored in more detail below.
How? On the screen. Television, Ignatieff wrote, ‘is the instrument of a new kind of politics’, one in which NGOs seek to circumvent bilateral governmental relations and institute direct political contacts between far-flung people. This notion, exemplified in the paradigms of ‘mobilizing shame’ and ‘global witness,’ today dominates the ‘third sector,’ from relief agencies to human rights organisations and community movements. For us, that new politics has been generalised and radicalised. Global civil society is unthinkable without media, without a virtual public space and access to its means of production and distribution. Indeed, under the banners of opening-democratic-spaces and overcoming-the-digital-divide, creating and defending those media zones has become one of the chief preoccupations of the new political movements of our time. The current concern with information and communications technology for development is just one indicator of this phenomenon. But civil society – and the new people politics – is not what it used to be.
Michel Foucault, speaking in 1981, heralded the emergence of an ‘international citizenry’ (quoted in Keenan 1987: 22), exemplified by Amnesty International and others, which had created a new right, that of private individuals to intervene in the order of international politics and strategies, to uproot the monopoly over reality previously held by governments.
It seemed that images could make governments undo what previous images had apparently galvanised them to do. ‘The media got us into Somalia and then got us out’, wrote John Shattuck, former US assistant secretary for human rights and democracy in the Clinton era (1996: 174). The story was obviously more complicated than that (and the counter-example of over-exposed and under-defended Sarajevo can serve as shorthand here) but the message is conventional wisdom today. No major human rights or humanitarian organisation would undertake a major advocacy campaign, and certainly not one aimed at influencing Northern policy makers, without a comprehensive media strategy.
Concern over small arms as a global issue first emerged in the early 1990s, as conventional disarmament organisations, domestic gun control groups, UN officials, foundations, and scholars held conferences, began research, and published books on the role of small arms in conflicts and crime worldwide. The NRA and other national gun groups quickly took notice. In 1997, they established a transnational network, the World Forum on the Future of Sport Shooting Activities (WFSA) – two years before pro–control forces formally created the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA). WFSA now comprises 38 NGOs from around the world, primarily domestic sporting associations, firearms organisations, and gun manufacturers’ groups (WFSA URL). (IANSA claims over 700 member organisations in more than 100 countries, including domestic gun control groups and international development and human rights NGOs [URL]). Just like IANSA, WFSA’s most important function is facilitating communication and exchanging ideas through conferences, publications, and a website. As its website declares, WFSA has a ‘noble purpose: to further the study, preservation, promotion and protection of sport shooting activities on every continent.’ Its ‘Project on Myths’ refutes ‘statistical myths and pseudo–scientific facts’ about firearms. Pro–gun groups then use this information to combat control measures. Meanwhile, WFSA’s image committee promotes ‘a true and accurate portrayal of the time–honored traditions and heritage of sport shooting.’ As one part of this, it presents an annual ‘Ambassador Award’ for a public figure interested in sport shooting who has made the greatest ‘social contribution.’ The 2006 winner: Italian gun-maker Ugo Gussalli Beretta (WFSA URL).
Many of the changes in company policy are also consumer-driven, and we should not underestimate the importance of consumer choice and consumer pressure in driving private sector action on climate change. As we have seen, this can be manifested in a confrontational manner, with consumers boycotting firms that continue to oppose the Kyoto Protocol and using their purchasing power to register their disapproval with companies’ obstruction of international action on climate change. But it can also take the form of deliberate individual and collective consumer choices aimed at reducing the climate impact of everyday consumption.
Targeting the corporate sector
Although much of the civil society activity described so far in this chapter is oriented towards the state, not all groups are concerned with policy reform. There has been a growing recognition that sources of resistance and therefore, simultaneously, potential drivers of change are to be found among the business actors who often operate as the ‘street-level bureaucrats’ of climate policy because of their command of the capital, technology and expertise which is central to change at the level of corporate strategy (Levy and Newell 2005).
The first risk is that it is a fragile movement on stilts, with shallow support structures incapable of dealing with setbacks and shifts in political mood. Live 8, the massive global music concert coinciding with the 2005 G8 summit was an event focused not on raising money but on raising public awareness on Africa, featured barely a single voice from Africa, an event about Africa, not of or from Africa. Criticism of this feature of Live 8 has been well rehearsed, but it is perhaps emblematic of an event focused on the exercise of communicative power by those best in a position to exercise that power, rather than a deliberate attempt to share and invest others with such power. The opportunity of Live 8 was to provide the Make Poverty History campaign with a set of supporters and voices that could nurture it through the inevitable difficulties that lie ahead. Most opinion polls suggest that public support in the UK in particular for efforts to tackle poverty is very widespread, but also very fragile. While the main justification of celebrity-led campaigns is their ability to reach a large number of people, some evidence suggests that their impact is short lived and shallow. Research in Britain shows public concern about poverty in poor countries reached a high of 32%, in April 2005, prior to the G8 meeting in Gleneagles in June, and two years has declined to 22%, its lowest level since the study began (Darnton 2007).
Other influences on global civil society include the appropriation of leadership on central issues of concern by those who command and exercise communicative power – in particular, celebrities. The capacities of rock musicians and of wealthy individuals to mobilise their resources and public support base, to catalyse leadership, and to exert pressure on political processes surrounding issues of concern to global civil society, such as global poverty, has been extraordinary.
The text of the Kyoto agreement having been secured, the key battleground for many NGOs has become the rules and mechanisms for realising the commitments contained in the agreement. Debates between governments, as well as within civil society, about compliance have focused on the rules for sinks and the ways in which the flexibility mechanisms contained within Kyoto can and should be used. What Gulbrandsen and Andresen (2004) call ‘advisory organisations’, such as the Centre for International Environmental Law (CIEL) and FIELD, have played a key role on many of the technical issues concerning benchmarking and measurement of activities for which credits are claimed against commitments. The authors contrast such groups with activist organisations that derive their legitimacy from a wide membership and a popular base of support.
We note below how NGOs have involved themselves in post-Kyoto debates about institutions and mechanisms. They have played an ongoing role, however, in debates about arrangements that exist within the UNFCCC regarding aid and technology transfers to help non-annex I (principally developing) countries meet their commitments. Channels of access are available to recognised NGOs with bodies such as GEF responsible for overseeing these transfers; for example, the Ad Hoc Working Group on Global Warming and Energy under the Scientific and Technical Advisory Panel of the GEF. The patterns of access and influence reflect familiar patterns of insider-outsider NGO involvement. As noted above, this includes the disproportionate influence of US groups in general as a result of the reliance of those institutions upon funding from the US which has to be approved by Congress, where the largest Washington-based environmental groups, or the ‘big 10’ as they are often referred to, have channels of access and good networks of influence (Newell 2000).
The history of attempts to establish such rights is contentious and occasionally bitter. The right to communicate was proposed in the 1981 MacBride Report (MacBride 1981), which initiated a global debate around what became known as the New World Information and Communication Order initiative (NWICO), led by UNESCO. The MacBride Commission pointed to the extreme dependency of developing countries on Western news sources, the concentration of Western media ownership that exerted increasing influence in developing and small countries, and the growing information and communication technology gap between the West and the rest (in other words many of the same issues – although often in different form explored in this chapter). At this time, developing countries (the Non-Aligned Movement) were in a critical phase of nation building and consolidation or creation of national and cultural identities. They protested that new forms of cultural imperialism (or what could be reasonably termed communicative power) were replacing and augmenting the old forms of military and political power (CRIS 2005).
Grassroots social movements – most notably on HIV/AIDS – have become increasingly powerful, built largely on their capacity to embarrass and hold governments and international agencies to their account through sophisticated public protest and media strategies. This adept use of communications, combined with excellent advocacy campaigns have transformed networks of people living with HIV/AIDS from the subjects of the response to the pandemic, to agents and strategic shapers of it. In this way, the resources, infrastructure and political commitment galvanised around HIV/AIDS and increasingly other global health issues, such as TB, have increased significantly. The HIV/AIDS global campaign echoed other social movements, for example around debt cancellation, fair trade and against globalisation. This move has coincided with and increasingly been overtaken by the rapid increase in the communicative power of celebrities to shape media and public agendas around issues of concern to civil society. Rock stars such as Sir Bob Geldof and Bono have epitomised the shift in sources of action on development issues, with policy agendas not only represented by but increasingly shaped by figures who have instant access to media. For example, Geldof suggested the establishment of a commission for Africa, prior to the G8 Summit in 2005, and as one of its 17 commissioners, he played a key role in shaping its content. This trend is augmented by massive new resources being made available for development work (particularly in health) from new private foundations and individuals, most notably by Bill Gates. The communicative power of such figures outweighs and exerts more influence over policy than virtually any other development actor, be they implementing agencies, grassroots NGOs or research bodies. In addition, a new generation of US foundations, established by new technology entrepreneurs, such as Jeff Skoll and Pierre Omidyar, are supporting social entrepreneurship and advocacy.
Knowledge brokers, research-based institutions such as the World Resources Institute, Union of Concerned Scientists, WorldWatch Institute, Tata Energy Research Institute and Foundation for International Environmental Law and Development (FIELD) are in many ways part of the epistemic communities that operate as conduits between the world of research and the world of policy (Gough and Shackley 2001). By providing, packaging and disseminating key findings of use to policy makers, such actors perform key roles as knowledge-brokers, agenda-setting within the international negotiations, as we will see below. As Yamin notes (2001: 157):
By publishing reports and providing information to states through briefing papers, and in many cases behind the scenes discussions with policy-makers about the implications of latest research before this has been published in peer-reviewed journals, such groups add enormously to government capacity to undertake international negotiations on an informed basis.
In many ways, it is these better-resourced groups that are able to contribute to each stage of the international policy process described below. Some, such as WWF, have a more global reach by virtue of having country offices across the world. This puts them in a better position to push for domestic ratification, since they can pool resources and channel them through country offices in the ratification process. Though generally considered under-resourced, total finances available to NGOs participating in these processes easily exceed the amount available, for example, to the United Nations Environment Programme. For example, WWF has around 5 million members worldwide with a combined income of around SwFr470 million ($US391 million); Greenpeace International has more than 2.5 million members in 158 countries with an annual budget in the region of $US30 million, and Friends of the Earth has over a million members in 58 countries (Yamin 2001: 151). Resources on this scale are not available to many other groups, of course, and of themselves explain to only a limited degree the types of influence that groups have been able to exert.
At the same time, we have to recognise at the outset that only a fraction of global civil society organisations actively participate in these processes. Southern-based groups are under-represented in international negotiating processes because they lack the resources required to attend and meaningfully participate in international meetings held all around the world which place a high premium on legal, scientific and other forms of expertise that Northern elites tend to have in greater abundance. The international reach of some groups derives from their access to the decision-making process within powerful states. The influence of groups such as Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC) and Environmental Defense (ED) on the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) and their ability to change the course of votes in the US Congress have provided key leverage in achieving positive environmental outcomes in the past (O’Brien et al. 2000). At the same time, such leverage ensures the groups voice and influence out of all proportion to the numbers they represent, generating concerns among governments. It accounts for the resistance of some developing country delegates to moves to open up regional and international policy processes to further participation from civil society. The argument is that well-resourced groups have an opportunity both to influence their own government at national level and to make their voice heard regionally – allowing them ‘two bites at the apple – in a way which is not possible for other less well-resourced groups.
Some of the most significant actors in global civil society have been active on the climate change issue, particularly from the 1980s onwards, coinciding with growing interest in global threats such as ozone depletion and climate change and rising appreciation of the global sources and impacts of threats facing the human race. World Wildlife Fund (WWF), Greenpeace and Friends of the Earth have been among the most active groups on this issue. By the time of the Sixth Conference of the Parties to the UNFCCC in the Hague November 2000, however, participants from 323 intergovernmental and non-governmental organisations were present (Yamin 2001). In order to bring about a measure of coordination of their activities, pooling of resources and expertise, civil society groups have organised themselves into coalitions such as the Climate Action Network (CAN).
Mapping the role of civil society
By the time negotiations towards an international agreement on climate change began in 1991, there had already been almost 20 years of institutional activity, albeit mainly in the scientific realm. Scientific programmes such as the International Biosphere Programme had been running since the 1970s, helping to consolidate an international network of scientific institutions working on the different dimensions of global climate change. Although such groups should also be considered part of civil society, the focus here is environmental pressure groups, and particularly those groups that have evolved strategies aimed at influencing and shaping international policy on climate change.
The energy of protests was also affected by the fact that they involved several groups with different agendas, from anti-war to animal rights to abortion rights. Admittedly, the convergence of all these groups in one place against a central political institution would be a formidable force. At the same time, the single-mindedness associated with other protests that have effected immediate change was absent from these demonstrations. This can also be linked to the apparent absence of measurable goals. With the election too far away for them to galvanise action to vote against President Bush, and no chance of overturning the Republican Party’s nomination of Bush as its candidate for 2004, protesters marched with such goals as:
‘to regain the integrity of our country. … to regain our moral authority. … to extend the ban on assault weapons. … for more police on our streets. … for more port security. … for a plan to get out of Iraq’ (Jackson 2004) or
‘we want to take charge and reach the right people and influence them to go on and spread the message that this is a corrupt government’ (protester quoted by CNN 2004).
Several elements contributed to this historic event, when mobile phones for the first time played a significant part in determining the outcome of a presidential election. First, a large-scale grass-roots political network was already centred on Nosamo, whose members not only had frequent online exchanges but also met offline. Second, Roh Moo-Hyun’s centre-left policies and iconoclastic image energised young liberals, many of whom were highly motivated and ready to act promptly at time of crisis. Third, Chung Mong-Joon’s sudden withdrawal of support on election eve and the temporary trailing of Roh created an urgent need to rally public support. And the mobile phone – the quintessential grass-roots communication gadget that is always on, ‘anywhere, anytime,’ – turned out to be the best medium for these rallying calls. Given the strength of youth networks (Yoon 2003a; 2003b) and the demographic fact that people in their twenties and thirties made up slightly more than half the total number of voters (J.-M Kim 2001: 49), young people mobilised through mobile messages became a decisive voting bloc. At the end of the day, ‘sixty percent of voters in their 20s and 30s cast ballots for Roh’ (Rhee 2003: 95).
It should also to be pointed out that other social forces were playing critical roles, especially the Catholic Church and the radio and other media under its influence. A Catholic nun was among the first to openly accuse Estrada’s family of mishandling public funds (Uy-Tioco 2003: 9). Cardinal Sin, the head of Roman Catholic Church in the Philippines, had been among the most prominent anti-Estrada leaders since the beginning of the impeachment in October 2000 (BBC News 2000; see also Gaspar 2001). Moreover, while many were suspicious of the credibility of SMS messages because so many of them consisted of ungrounded rumours, religious organisations were deliberately involved to add legitimacy to anti-Estrada text messages. As one activist reveals in a listserv post:
I was certain [texting] would not be taken seriously unless it was backed up by some kind of authority figure to give it some sort of legitimacy. A priest who was with us suggested that Radio Veritas [the church-owned broadcasting station] should get involved in disseminating the particulars … We [then] formulated a test message … and sent it out that night and I turned off my phone … By the time I turned it on in the morning, the message had come back to me three times. … I am now a firm believer in the power of the text! (quoted in Rafael 2003: 408)
There is some confusion here with respect to language. Anderson and Rieff are directing their attention to activist NGOs, whereas international commissions drawing their membership from the ranks of prominent individuals, while being part of civil society, are not regarded as posing fundamental challenges to the established order, but rather appear to be appendages that are seeking helpful adjustments.
There are also a large number of civil society actors around the world with issue-oriented agendas, especially in relation to environment and human rights. These actors make use of the United Nations to the extent relevant to their substantive preoccupations. EarthAction, World Wide Fund for Nature, and Greenpeace are environmental NGOs that push their causes at the UN whenever it seems useful. Human Rights Watch and Amnesty International do the same with respect to human rights. One of the oldest and most widely respected organisations, Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), has been active especially at the Geneva end of UN operations, but also in UN conferences around the world, particularly if the subject matter bears on feminist concerns or disarmament. WILPF has a civil society presence and possesses a strong internationalist identity that long antedates the establishment of the United Nations. The role and activism of WILPF prefigures in many respects the emergent reality of global civil society.
Another argument, very much post-9/11, has been made by Samuel Huntington (2004) to the effect that one can be never sure of the immigrant’s loyalty to the culture he or she has decided to co-habit with. Even an immigrant country like America has limits to its capacity to assimilate, and thus cohesion requires limits on immigration. There is a tension here between tolerance of other cultures and the dangers of leaving the door open for citizens of countries who may harbour feelings of enmity towards the host country. This is the argument about national security and the fear of ‘the enemy within’ (see Box 4.4 ) A plethora of civil society groups in the US unite concerns about immigration (both legal and illegal) for job security, social cohesion and security of Americans. CitizensLobby.com (URL) campaigns for troops on the border, an end to amnesties for illegal immigrants and a scaling back of guest worker quotas. Its ‘America first foreign and trade policy’ also lobbies for a boycott of Chinese-made products and the abolition of ‘wasteful government programs like foreign aid’.
The rise of Regressive and Rejectionist civil society groups may have been influenced by right-wing political parties in Europe that are strident in their nationalism and anti-immigration stance. During the 1990s some parties, such as Le Pen’s National Front, the British National Party and Pim Fortuyn’s LPF, achieved electoral success (Kaldor and Muro 2003). Civil society groups and political parties that are anti-immigration deny they are racist. However, emboldened by the post-9/11 context, their rhetoric has hardened and their public profile has been enhanced. Rowthorn (2003: 63) argues that these concerns should not be dismissed lightly:
It is not surprising that the political parties most hostile to immigration are normally the most hostile to economic globalisation and to supra-national institutions. They are raising, albeit in xenophobic form, issues of community, identity and self-determination that should be of concern to all democrats.
Among Supporters and Reformers are vocal migrants’ support groups, established in host countries wherever a significant migrant worker population exists, which lobby for the rights of migrant and/or undocumented workers. The particular focus of these groups depends on the situation, skills and experience of their constituents. The US-based Farm Labor Organizing Committee (FLOC URL), whose motto is ‘As capital is free to move, workers should be free to move. Hasta la Victoria!’, campaigns vigorously for permanent residency and labour rights for farm workers. The Chinese Staff and Workers’ Association (URL), founded in New York in 1979, supports its mostly low-income garment, restaurant and construction workers by challenging the sweatshop system, racism and sexism. The Association des Travailleurs Marocains en France (URL) fights for the rights of immigrants from the Maghreb region. In Hong Kong the Mission for Filipino Migrant Workers (URL) assists the 100,000 Filipinos who mostly work as domestic helpers under a controlled flow agreed by the respective governments. This organisation has helped its constituents to seek legal redress in cases of physical abuse, and lobbies the Special Administrative Region Government of Hong Kong on the minimum wage for domestic helpers.
In wealthy industrialised countries, civil society campaigns for open borders have been much less vocal than those lobbying against migration. Typical of the latter is CitizensLobby.com (URL), a US-based grass-roots organisation, which campaigns for stronger border security, revamped immigration controls and the scaling back of guest worker quotas, arguing that migrants, whether legal or illegal, risk Americans’ jobs and threaten national security and ‘traditional values’.
Nothing of the sort existed on the social movements’ side. Of course, through their international structures, innumerable campaign activists, as well as religious, academic, humanitarian, NGO and trade-union networks did meet periodically. Nonetheless, experience has shown that these single-issue meetings rarely resulted in concrete global action, precisely because of their very specificity. What was missing was a space where the greatest number of social players, geographically isolated and usually lacking funds, could meet to articulate and exchange their views and their experience of political struggles
The grass roots are indeed becoming more remote from political parties, and at the Forums they find a place to engage in political activities that are broader than purely party politics. In fact, it is much more in parties’ interest to maintain the Forum as it is, with its independence from governments and parties, instead of absorbing it into their own natural contradictions, thus finally destroying it.
Then, after the third World Social Forum, the Charter leveraged another strikingly effective episode in worldwide mobilisation, based on the same logic of networked organisation that had proved so successful at Seattle. On 15 February 2003 protests brought 15 million people onto the streets, in a great number of countries, to demonstrate for peace and against the invasion of Iraq. The proposal to hold these demonstrations was presented and discussed during the Forums in November 2002 (in Florence, the first European Social Forum) and January 2003 (the WSF in Porto Alegre). Under its Charter of Principles, however, the Forum is not an organisation but a ‘space’; it has no leaders and cannot call for demonstrations from the top down. The 15 February protests were thus convened by the multiple networks that participated in the Forum or that then started working together, drawing freely – as had happened at Seattle – on an extremely powerful tool for horizontal communication, namely, the internet. The calls that went out for the 2003 demonstrations far exceeded whatever ability the Forum itself may have had to mobilise for action. However, it probably was decisive to the process that the Forum made an open meeting space available, under the terms of its Charter, for proposals to be presented and discussed, and for the planning and coordination necessary to carry them out.
Horizontal networked organisation
The method adopted to date is indeed designed to permit both Forum organisers and participants to experiment practically with a new way of organising and acting politically. From the outset, the organisers of Forums have referred to themselves as ‘facilitators’, never as ‘coordinators’, far less as ‘leaders’. Such vocabulary is extremely important because it reflects the pursuit of a new political culture marked by horizontal relations among actors, in place of the vertical ones that have predominated to date both in capitalist authoritarianism and Western bureaucratic culture and in the actions of their left-wing adversaries.
Thesis 5: We should move from an NGO-centred notion of accountability to an understanding of social accountability, even moral accountability in a broader sense
Social accountability is an approach in which citizens and civil society organisations participate directly or indirectly in exacting accountability from private and public institutions, including NGOs. Businesses, governments and NGOs are held accountable for their actions and the social, political, or environmental impact they may have. Social accountability refers to a broad range of actions and mechanisms that citizens, communities, independent media and civil society organisations can use to hold public officials and civic leaders accountable (Malena et al. 2004). Such mechanism include participatory budgeting, public expenditure tracking, monitoring of public service delivery, investigative journalism, public commissions and citizen advisory boards. They complement and reinforce conventional mechanisms of accountability such as political checks and balances, accounting and auditing systems, administrative rules and legal procedures.
A policy void is created as globalisation challenges conventional accountability mechanisms and practices, and civil society and the public at large simultaneously demand more accountability (see Kaldor et al. 2003). As a result of these processes, accountability becomes easily entangled with legitimacy questions about the role and performance of foundations and other non-profit organisations.
As others have pointed out, foundations have no ‘demos’ or membership equivalent, and no broad-based election of leaders takes place that would aggregate preferences and hold those elected accountable. Unlike firms in the marketplace, membership-based non-profit organisations or government agencies, foundations have no equivalent set of stakeholders that would introduce a system of checks and balances. Grantees have little influence, and no explicit vehicles for redress and grievance. Expressing primarily the will of the donor or deed, the organisational structure of a foundation does not typically allow for broad-based participation and decision making outside the limited circle of trustees.
Against the diabetes case, a purely domestic project, consider another AF grant – this time a transnational project in the sense that it involves devolved authority and responsibilities across borders. The project is ‘TB Free,’ which aims at reducing tuberculosis (TB) infection rates in South Africa by involving local communities through volunteers, traditional healers, grassroots groups, churches and so on, to (a) help administer and complete the treatment course for TB patients as part of a so-called ‘directly observed treatment system’ (DOTS), (b) fight the stigma attached to TB at the community level and (c) create better public awareness about the disease and its relationship with HIV/AIDS.
Social Forums and interconnectedness
Two chapters in this yearbook discuss directly the matter of global civil society’s infrastructure: how global it is in terms of actual on-the-ground presence and connectedness rather than rhetoric. The conclusions of Katz and Anheier’s chapter on international NGOs give a bleak response to this question. While international NGOs are nearly all connected to each other in one huge inclusive network, there is a ‘pronounced centre-periphery structure’. Moreover, the biggest clusters of INGOs mirror the centres of corporate and governmental power: New York, London, Washington, DC and Brussels. Hence, the network reproduces rather than counteracts the amplification of Northern over Southern voices.
There are various ways of interpreting these reports, none of which is comfortable from a global civil society perspective. The first would be that the middle classes are in cahoots with American or global neo-liberal interests, while the poor are manipulated by populists, authoritarians and Islamists. The second would be that only the middle classes are capable of exercising their own judgement with respect to the democratic credentials of their politicians, while the poor and uneducated are subject to instrumentalisation. The third would be that both groups are capable of exercising their own judgement, and are mobilising of their own volition, but have fundamentally different concerns and interests. Only the middle classes are concerned with abstract and ‘bourgeois’ concerns about democracy, while the poor are concerned with social justice – even if the politicians in whom they put their faith do not necessarily deliver it. The reality is undoubtedly more complex and more determined by local and historical factors than any of these interpretations allows. Still, the idea that the recent revolutions are evidence of an unproblematic global trajectory towards democracy, transparency and justice should be treated with some scepticism.
On the one hand, according to British journalist Andrew Gilligan, the tsunami ‘lowered the bar to get development stories on TV’ (Gilligan 2005). The Global Call to Action Against Poverty (GCAP), initiated at the World Social Forum in Porto Alegre in January 2005, built up a rapid momentum in the first six months of the year, with groups in more than 60 countries calling for the implementation of the Millennium Development Goals. The focus was the G8 meeting in Scotland. The Make Poverty History campaign, with the Live 8 concerts and the white armbands, mobilised millions of people around the slogan ‘Justice not Charity’ (see Box 1.2). On the other hand, the situation in Darfur, where tens of thousands have died as a result of violence, hunger or disease, has not entered the global imagination as something that could happen to any of us or as something we can all help alleviate. It may spark feelings of compassion but also alienation and apathy. This is happening only to them, and will probably continue to do so.
The role that global civil society plays as the medium through which consciousness of risk is increased and risk protection is promoted also, of course , varies widely between rich and poor regions. Risk experienced in the poorer parts of the world is much more pervasive and less amenable to control than risks in the richer parts of the world. Indeed, authors like Douglas (1992: 38–54) and Luhmann (1993: 22–3) draw a distinction between risk and danger, between uncertainties that might be averted through alternative human decision-making and immediate threats to one’s daily survival. It could therefore be argued that worrying about risk is a luxury of privileged Northerners. People in conflict zones or at the margins of survival do not attend festival performances with a ‘risk’ theme. Yet it is the privileged Northerners who dominate global civil society and who therefore have the biggest say in determining what counts as global risk.
There is a further implication of the world risk society and the de-bounding process. Risk communities, framed largely in national and regional policy contexts, are becoming increasingly linked in ways that are frequently unknown and ill-understood. Sometimes, these risk communities are latent and defined by the possibility of a highly unlikely catastrophic event, such as afflicted the fishermen, the hotel service workers and the tourists in Thai coastal resorts in 2004 when the 26 December tsunami hit. In such cases, global civil society creates a sphere of awareness and action for the (now) manifest risk communities.
Sixth, accounts of women’s organising need to take on board the increasingly global set of players engaging with national and local civil societies. In particular there is room for further research into the role of international donor agencies, global networks and international women’s coalitions on the development of women’s organisations in different contexts. To what extent do international donor agencies reproduce ‘Western’ understandings of the public-private divide, of civil society and of gender relations in their support to women’s groups in aid-recipient contexts? What is the impact of major international events such as UN Conferences on Women on discourses, agendas, frameworks and practices in different contexts? In what ways do global women’s coalitions and organisations set gender agendas, contribute to processes of change at global and national levels, and frame debates on issues such as domestic violence and genital mutilation?
Fourth, the concept of civil society needs to be disaggregated into not only different types of organisations with divergent ideological and political predilections but also into individuals, structured by societal divisions such as class, gender, and ethnicity. The focus within civil society studies on organisations as well as the tendency to reduce ‘civil society’ to a singular actor and voice has analytically steered the gaze away from the constituent individuals who come together in the spaces of civil society. Similarly, although many feminist theorists cautiously refer to ‘feminisms’, in the plural, there is still a tendency to work with aggregate notions of ‘the women’s movement’, which can mask rather than reveal the ideological nuances among women’s groups.
By highlighting the idea of the interconnectedness of sites, the model undermines the hegemony of autonomy. The notion of sectors, the prevalence of negative (and reductive) definitions of civil society organisations as non-profit and non-governmental, and the dominance of the ‘civil society versus state’ debate have all contributed to the definition of these sites within rigid boundaries. Civil society theorists have deployed the concept of autonomy as a distinguishing feature of civil society-type association. Some liberal and neo-liberal theories of the state assume its autonomy from social relations. This focus on autonomy makes it difficult to analyse the flow of ideas, values and norms between sectors. Where such influences penetrate, they are interpreted as diverging from an ideal type. In contrast, an analysis which focuses on the flows of bodies, norms and values through relatively fixed, though fungible, sites of power can illuminate the complex mechanisms by which gendered power relations are produced and reproduced. Such an approach implies a more diffuse notion of power that is rarely a zero-sum process. In this way we can begin to understand how particular gendered norms, ideologies, practices and values work their way through the power sites of the state, civil society, market and family and position male and female bodies in different ways, and why particular gender patterns become congealed at certain points and moments. Recognising this fluidity makes it harder at the conceptual and practical levels to ignore the influence of gender relations in apparently separate domains such as the state and civil society or in apparently non-gender specific issues such as architecture, health and the environment, or the cross-cutting of gender relations with other organisers of identity such as class, religion, sexuality and ethnicity. Furthermore, it also gives us scope to examine the blockages in flows, and in particular, flows of male and female bodies between sites of power. This in turn draws attention to the risks involved in moving between sites and the gendered nature thereof (see Box 1.4).
Like the public and domestic ‘sites’, civil society, too, is made up of a diversity of associational forms, varying in their size, purpose, duration, values, ideologies, degree of formality, and interconnections with the market and state. These can range from burial societies to single mothers’ groups, trades unions, animal rights’ groups, football clubs, business associations, global social movements, and world social forums. What unites these diverse units is the dynamic of voluntary solidarity. For civil society to sustain itself, people need to be able to associate voluntarily (in contrast to the ascriptive ties of the family) and to have a common reason to associate. We prefer here the concept of ‘sites’ to sectors, as the term allows for more fuzzy, porous and evolving boundaries than the more compartmentalised, legalistic and rigid image that ‘sector’ evokes. Furthermore, we conceptualise these sites as concentrations of power galvanised by distinct dynamics – in the case of the state, the dynamic of coercion and regulation; in the case of the market, the dynamic of profit and accumulation; in the case of the household, the dynamic of material and affective provisioning; and in the case of civil society, the dynamic of voluntary solidarity.
Though feminist theorists have not paid much attention to the relationship between civil society and the family, it can be argued that conceptualising the family as inside or outside of civil society has consequences for the way we theorise civil society and gender, and indeed for practical strategies around gender emancipation. Arguing, as Pateman does, that the family is ‘at the heart of civil society’ challenges modernist and voluntarist views of civil society, which posit civil society-type organisations as free of clan and familial ties and obligations. Taking the family as crucial calls for a gender analysis of civil society and state institutions. It thus strengthens the idea that civil society discourses, spaces and organisations as well as state organisations and practices are shaped by, and in turn reproduce, particular configurations of gender relations. Moreover, it places organisations based on ethnicity or blood ties within the scope of analysis by civil society researchers, a dilemma that has been captured in the works of researchers in Africa.
An additional challenge to NGOs working internationally came with the major change in the geo-political climate after the terrorist attacks of September 11, 2001. Legislation and guidelines issued by the US government and the subsequent declaration of a ‘war on terror’ by President Bush, put a much higher accountability burden on non-profit organisations than in the past. Issued first in 2002 by the US Department of the Treasury under the authority of the Patriot Act and updated since, the Anti-Terrorist Financing Guidelines: Voluntary Best Practices for US-based Charities address foundations and cross-border philanthropy. This measure takes the first step to put in place detailed regulations governing the operations of financial institutions, including foundations and NGOs. Similar and sometimes more stringent measures have been discussed at the European Commission, the Council of Europe and the OECD (Anheier and Daly 2005) with regard to financial audits and the review of foreign organisations.
Members of International Advocacy NGOs, a group made up of 11 large NGOs including Save the Children, Oxfam, and Amnesty International, adopted the INGO Accountability Charter in summer 2006 (International Non-Governmental Organisations Commitment to Accountability 2006), which includes many aspects of the Sarbanes–Oxley Act (see Box 7.1). Similarly, in May 2007, the European Foundation Centre and the US Council on Foundations issued the Principles of Accountability for International Philanthropy (European Foundation Centre and the US Council on Foundations 2007) to guide funders in making better decisions in pursuing their international missions and objectives and to provide a framework that will encourage and assist more foundations to get involved internationally (see Box 7.2). While the INGO Charter and the Principles of Accountability for International Philanthropy can be seen as steps forward, they also highlight some of the biggest challenges in defining and enforcing accountability in a globalising world, for instance, those centred around the multiplicity of stakeholders and the difficulty of enforcement and liability, which will be discussed later in this Chapter.
In Iran, young people’s movements include non-political movements of young people who want to be able to meet the opposite sex freely in public places or dress as they please, as well as those who make more explicitly political demands, especially among student groups. Unemployment is also an important factor in young people’s protest. In Burma, university students were a critical force in the 1988 pro-democracy demonstrations that were brutally suppressed, but they are still defiant and active. Despite the regime’s repression of dissent, some 1,000 people gathered to mark the birthday of the imprisoned student leader Min Ko Naing in October 2006 (Yeni 2006).
In Saudi Arabia, in 1991, a large group of educated women drove their cars into the centre of Riyadh. They were harassed, threatened and publicly denounced. Subsequently the government announced travel restrictions on women. Women have become more outspoken in the last few years. The broadcaster Rania al-Baz allowed her face to be photographed after her husband beat her. A businesswoman addressed the Jeddah Economic Forum with her face uncovered. In 2004, a petition signed by 300 people demanded greater rights for women, and women protested their exclusion from the municipal elections. The government’s defence was based on logistics, the difficulty of registering women, rather than on principle, and it has been agreed that women would be allowed to vote in future elections.
I recognise the diversity of civil society actors’ motivations and I do not wish in any way to portray all NGO actors as being driven by economic incentives. However, the fact remains that in the 1990s, creating or joining NGOs became an economic survival strategy from countries as far apart as Albania to Zambia, thanks to the influx of donor aid (Celichowski 2004: 75; Ishkanian 2004; Mandel 2002: 286; Obadare 2004: 159; Sampson 2002: 307). These so-called ‘grant-eaters’ (Ishkanian 2003: 29), ‘civil society entrepreneurs’ (Obadare 2004: 159) or ‘profiteers’ (Kaldor et al. 2007: 111) cashed in on the ‘gold rush’ by engaging in civil society strengthening programmes. Of course individuals adapt, manipulate and negotiate ideologies, discourses and projects to fit their needs, but within the context of aid encounters they very rarely publicly question the validity of these approaches and ideas, even if they do so privately and off the record. Whereas I understand the potential costs of speaking out (including losing funding and being labelled a troublemaker), unfortunately, silence has often been interpreted by donors as a sign of acceptance of the status quo.
Genetically engineered civil society
Katherine Verdery (1996) contends that since the demise of communism, Western capitalist societies have come to believe that they have a monopoly on truth and can therefore dispense wisdom about how to build the ‘proper’ forms of democracy and capitalism. This, the critics charge, led to the promotion of a single (i.e.Western) model of civil society that ignores other traditions and understandings (Parekh 2004: 22). According to Thomas Carothers, ‘Democracy promoters pass through these countries [in Africa, Asia and the Middle East] on hurried civil society assessment missions and declare that “very little civil society exists” because they have found only a handful of Westernised NGOs devoted to non-partisan public-interest advocacy work on the national side’ (Carothers 1999: 248). Since donor-defined civil society (that is, professional NGOs) did not exist in many places or was believed to have been tainted, donors engaged in a process of building society from scratch (Mandel 2002: 282).
Second, although the numbers of NGOs have dramatically increased in developing and transition countries, the reality is that the vast majority of these NGOs are almost entirely dependent on foreign support. This dependence not only raises concerns about their long-term sustainability and impact but also raises questions about their legitimacy, probity and accountability. In other words, are these NGOs considered legitimate actors locally? These considerations are often ignored and the growth in the number of NGOs is frequently cited by donors as a sign of success. This is due to the fact that it is easier to count the number of organisations and to cite increased numbers as evidence of the impact and success of donor programmes. For instance, the ‘Lessons in Implementation: The NGO Story’ report published by USAID in 1999 examines the lessons learned in ‘building civil society in Central and Eastern Europe and the New Independent States’. The report acknowledges that the immense amount of aid led to an ‘explosive growth of local NGOs’ (USAID 1999: 3), citing growth as one of the eight success indicators. The need for demonstrating success is driven by the pressures on all actors engaged in democracy promotion, whether donors or recipients, to demonstrate effectiveness and to give account to their own funders. However, since it is difficult to measure the impact of democracy-building efforts on people’s behaviour and attitudes, often what is considered and presented as signs of success are the formal or procedural democratic mechanisms and institutions.
Non-state actors and democracy promotion
In addition to bilateral and multilateral agencies, non-state actors, including private foundations, Northern NGOs, private service contractors, political parties and others have been involved in democracy promotion. There are differences among these various actors in terms of their objectives and missions, as well as levels of financial independence and autonomy. Some organisations, such as the Open Society Institute (also known as the Soros Foundation) and the Ford Foundation, are funded by private endowments and consider democracy promotion as an integral part of their mission. They have been actively engaged in democracy promotion and civil society strengthening. Meanwhile NGOs or quasi-NGOs such as the US-based NED and National Democratic Institute for International Affairs, or the UK-based Westminster Foundation for Democracy (URL), which are also committed to promoting democracy around the world, have less financial independence than the aforementioned private foundations and are dependent on government funding. For instance, NED receives an annual appropriation from the US Congress through the Department of State (NED URL), while the Westminster Foundation is an independent body that receives £4.1 million annual funding from the UK Foreign and Commonwealth Office (URL). In addition to these various types of foundations, there are also political parties or organisations affiliated to political parties that engage in democracy promotion. In Germany, for instance, there are a number of organisations, including the Friedrich Ebert, Friedrich Naumann, Heinrich Böll and Konrad Adenauer foundations that are associated with various political parties and that have been active in democracy promotion. Finally, among non-state actors, there are the private service contractors or consulting companies (such as Planning and Development Collabrative International and Development Alternatives, Inc. URL), which procure contracts and carry out democracy promotion, civil society strengthening and governance on behalf of and based on the specifications of their clients. USAID, in particular, provides a significant amount of contracts to such consulting companies and private service contractors. In 2004 alone it provided US $8 billion to contractors engaged in carrying out international development projects throughout the world (USAID 2006).
The UN approach
Even though democracy is not a precondition for UN membership and the word ‘democracy’ does not appear in the UN charter, since 2005 the UN has also made a foray into democracy promotion. According to Newman and Rich,
It is not one of the stated purposes of the United Nations to foster democracy, to initiate the process of democratisation or to legitimise other actors’ efforts in this field [democracy promotion]. (Newman and Rich 2004: 5)
Since the early 1990s, programmes strengthening civil society, in particular American, have excluded political associations and parties (i.e. political society) in an attempt to appear non-partisan and to avoid accusations of ‘playing politics’ (Ottaway and Carothers 2000: 12). Instead, although donors have recently sought to expand the definition of civil society to include more actors than just NGOs, in practice civil society was often equated with the development and growth of NGOs and as a result, the infusion of donor funding and focus on civil society strengthening throughout the 1990s led to an unprecedented and exponential growth in the numbers of NGOs worldwide. Many have referred to this as the ‘NGOisation’ of civil society.
In his testimony to the US Senate Foreign Relations Committee hearing on the role of non-governmental organisations in the development of democracy Ambassador Mark Palmer argued that ‘achieving a 100% democratic world is possible over the next quarter century – but only with radical strengthening of our primary frontline fighters of freedom’ (emphasis added). Palmer characterises these ‘frontline fighters of freedom’ (i.e. non-governmental organisations – NGOs) not only as having assisted ‘a massive expansion in freedom’ but as being the ‘heirs of Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Lech Walesa’ (Palmer 2006). While few scholars of civil society would describe NGOs in such laudatory language, such thinking has fuelled democracy promotion efforts since the late 1980s. At that time, the idea that civil society is critical to development, democratisation and successful transition became quite prominent among donors and policy makers, because of their growing enthusiasm for the idea of civil society, a certain disillusionment with the over-concentration on aid to state institutions, and the belief that through civil society ‘democratic forms’ could be transformed into ‘democratic substance’ (Carothers 2000).
More recent, transnational ‘neutral’ intermediaries include Article 19, Reporters sans frontiers and the Global Internet Policy Initiative. International media development efforts frequently focus on developing the infrastructure – including technical capacity such as computers, websites and transmitters, as well as business structure – that will allow entry by global civil society and the increased dissemination of content. These efforts often rely on government funding for such work (Price et al. 2002).
Thirdly, and perhaps most importantly, democracy promotion means imaginative responses to demands from global civil society. The best form of empowerment is success, the knowledge that engagement leads to meaningful outcomes. Action designed to fulfil an emerging global social contract or covenant – the consequence of numerous debates, campaigns, arguments taking place all over the world – offers a political project that can help to recast democracy at local and national levels. A good example of what is meant by this is the enlargement of the European Union. The European Union can be understood a new type of multilateral organisation at a regional level, promoting, as it were, regional public goods. Membership of the European Union for newly emerging democracies has become an appealing political project that does take democracy forward. In the same way, a global social covenant could offer a political project for ‘civilising’ globalisation and pressing for global public goods like resource redistribution or global action to tackle climate change that represents an alternative to backward-looking sectarianism.
At a moment when democracy at a national level appears to be ‘hollowing out’, the informal political sphere is increasingly active through NGOs. This includes those operating at local levels and those with global brand names like Oxfam, Human Rights Watch or Greenpeace, as well as a new wave of global social movements like the Social Forums, the anti-war movement or Islamist and other national or religious movements. Moreover new types of informal policy making are being pioneered on big global issues like social justice, climate change or war. These are being tackled through consumer practices (fair trade or carbon miles) or through volunteering (delivering humanitarian aid, acting as civilian monitors).
The third type of tool is communication and dialogue. Essentially this means engaging both government and civil society in debates among themselves and with outsiders. This was mainly what the peace and human rights groups did in the 1970s and 1980s and it is also sometimes the job of diplomats. As the EU’s External Affairs Commissioner, Chris Patten put great emphasis on political dialogue within the EU framework.
The discursive model proposes that the public is highly differentiated in terms of the roles various members play in the processes of public debate and decision. A small minority plays a distinct leadership role, aggressively pursuing its favoured actions, while at the other end of the participatory continuum are much larger mass audiences that do little more than receive information about the issue and retain some of it. Price and Neijens (1997) distinguish six different types of actors in public debate, arrayed roughly from the smallest and most active groups to the largest and least active aggregates. Political leaders, policy experts and interest groups comprise the ‘elites’, both within and outside the sphere of formal government who play active roles throughout all the phases of decision making (we place NGOs and public advocacy groups in the last of these categories). Members of the press serve as critical conduits for information and opinion exchange between these elites, as well as to their followers in attentive publics, made up of people following the issue, discussing it and forming opinions and, finally, to more expansive but minimally engaged mass audiences.
Time for gender and civil society theorists to tango
There are many reasons why it is time to interrogate more closely the relationship between gender and civil society. The first and perhaps most obvious reason for feminist theorists and practitioners is that women have been significant actors in the theatres of civil societies across the world. Often excluded from state institutions and male-dominated politics, women in different historical and cultural contexts have found it easier to become active at the local level through, for example, community organisations, self-help groups, traders’ associations, faith-based organisations, mothers’ groups, or campaigning. It is on this terrain that women activists, including feminists, have articulated their demands, mobilised around issues such as the right to vote, dowry, land rights and domestic violence, and created networks of solidarity. The spaces and institutions within civil society can exclude women, but they also have an emancipatory potential, which feminists can and do make use of.
Moreover that discursive model has its impact in turn on the practices of NGOs, sensing the demands of a global public opinion and responding to the urgings of activists. In Chapter 7 Helmut Anheier’s and Amber Hawkes’ review of the shifting locus of accountability shows the backlash against the gross excesses of capitalist organisations like Enron has gathered pace and extended to NGOs, and joined up with a broader sense of social accountability that informs debate about new kinds of democracy for a globalised world. The self-critique of capitalist organisations looks increasingly like the demand for participatory democracy and checks and balances that advocates of communicative power to the people have long demanded. We might say ‘suspiciously like’ of course, because this rapprochement between the agents and critics of the global corporation looks very like a replay of the earlier compact between governments and NGOs. The rise of private equity that bypasses the constraints on public corporations suggests new power strategies by the owners of capital. We may now be moving to a new stage of the continuing struggle to sustain democracy: a kind of democracy-lite in the form of accountability being forced upon and embraced by the corporate sector.
But the ideal has not only inspired cyberspace. The opening phrases of the World Social Forum Charter, now adopted by hundreds of regional, national and local social forums, could have been written by Habermas or Benhabib themselves. According to the Charter, a social forum ‘is an open meeting place for reflective thinking, democratic debate of ideas, formulation of proposals, free exchange of experiences’ etc. As the social forums chapter in Global Civil Society 2005/6 put it, they ‘give rise to uneven attempts to practise politics in horizontal, network-based ways that are meant to be more participatory and democratic than conventional structures’ (Glasius and Timms, 2006: 190). Six years on from the first World Social Forum, our data suggest that the majority of social forums tend to survive, and new ones continue to be founded. Deliberative democracy has flown off the pages of the theorists’ scholarly works and become a real-life aspiration for civil society activists.
The new social movements of the 1970s already showed some affinity with this ideal, causing Habermas to revise his view of the public sphere from something once briefly glimpsed in the Enlightenment that could never return, to a ‘less pessimistic assessment’ of an ideal for which one could strive in practice (1992: 457). Since then, the newer global movements that have emerged have even more explicitly sought their salvation in an alternative politics of communication. The ‘hacker ethic’ of the first generation of computer geeks launched a wholesale attack on the foundations of modernity: the work ethic, the notion of private property, and command-and-control structures of governance (Himanen 2001). But the most enduring characteristic of that ethic has been the emphasis on ‘open access’ and free flows of information and communication, which has to date determined the architecture of the Internet. Beside this paramount achievement, the broad movement has spawned numerous other civil society initiatives built on the same norms, including the early email networks, the free software and open source movements, the Indymedia centres, Wikipedia. These are all expressions of, and contributions to, ‘an emerging techno-political ethos’ (Juris 2005) in global civil society. This ethos has now spread far beyond the original western left-wing hacktivists: Box I.2 describes how the resistance of a single couple of Chinese home-owners to the property developers became a cause celebre by moving from the blogosphere into the Chinese and Western mainstream media.
The UN Panel on UN-Civil Society Relations follows in this tradition. It describes participatory democracy as a process in which ‘anyone can enter the debates that most interest them, through advocacy, protest, and in other ways’ (UN 2004: paragraph 13). But a few pages later it acknowledges that there are practical constraints: ‘if the United Nations brought everyone relevant into each debate, it would have endless meetings without conclusion’ (2004: paragraph 23).