Covid-19: remaking a better world and the role of civil society

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Charities and NGOs are vital to creating a new, better world after the Covid crisis #NeverMoreNeeded

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29th May 2020 by Graham Martin 0 Comments

Global civil society has a vital role to play in reconstructing the world, post Covid-19.

A major new report highlights the positive role campaigners are playing in direct response to the crisis – and also in tackling attacks on freedom which have come with it.

The Covid-19 pandemic, and the necessary lockdowns imposed in most countries, are having a profound impact on economic life – but also, in some countries, the rights of vulnerable and excluded groups and civic freedoms.

A new report, the State of Civil Society Report 2020, published by global civil society alliance Civicus, says the economic, political and social problems exposed and accelerated by the pandemic are long-standing and plans for recovery must address them – and must also include charities, NGOs and campaigners.

The document sets out civil society actions to tackle these major problems.

These actions, it says, are already making a difference and should inform any recovery plans. 

The report describes the massive people’s mobilisations to demand democracy, urging fairer economic policies, challenging inequalities, calling for more accountable global governance and insisting on urgent action on the climate crisis.

Before the Covid crisis struck, a wave of mass people’s movements have achieved breakthroughs - in 2019, civic action proved its value from Sudan, where a longstanding dictator was ousted and military rule resisted, to Chile, where consultative processes to write a new constitution are now underway, all as a result of mass mobilisation. 

Meanwhile the urgent need for climate action became widely understood in 2019 as a direct result of civil society action, in the global school strike movement and a host of acts of non-violent civil disobedience.

The report authors say that civil society has taken the spirit of this into its response to the pandemic, as self-help and community action groups have sprung up across the globe – and that this momentum must be carried through to the years of reconstruction which lie ahead.

Lysa John, secretary general at Civicus, said: “When we look at the past year through the lens of the current crisis, what we see is how time and again civil society has proved its value and its ability to make a difference. Civil society must now be seen as a vital force in bringing the world out of the crisis in a way that marks a break from the economic, political and social policies that were already failing so many.”

During the pandemic, repressive governments have cracked down further on rights to express dissent and take part in opposition, using emergency powers as pretexts.

The poorest people have suffered the worst consequences of the suspension of economic activity, while people in low-paid and undervalued frontline jobs have faced the greatest risk.

In lockdown, women and other vulnerable groups have experienced heightened levels of abuse. Meanwhile the pandemic has exposed major weaknesses in international coordination.

If there has been one upside, it has been in some lower levels of greenhouse gas emissions and other environmental degradation.

As societies start to leave lockdown, civil society is highlighting the danger of attempts to return to business as usual, or of even worse measures being pursued – such as a resurgence of economic austerity policies, the retention by governments of emergency powers, or a carbon-fuelled dash for GDP recovery – that exacerbate the problems identified in the report.

Civicus says that another recovery is possible, in which rights are respected and measures that make societies fairer, greener and more just are prioritised.

Lysa John continued: “Civil society ideas – such as the green new deal to ensure sustainable jobs, a universal basic income and debt cancellation for global south countries, among many other civil society solutions advanced in recent years – must be an essential component of a socially just and rights-respected recovery.

“For that to happen, we need restrictions that hinder civil society to be lifted, and for an enabled, networked and properly resourced civil society to be recognised as a vital partner in reconstruction.”