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Session Overview
4-HP050 - 2/2: Building Solidarity for Empowerment and Accountability in Difficult Settings - 2/2
Tuesday, 06/July/2021:
3:30pm - 4:45pm

Session Chair: Colin Anderson, Institute of Development Studies, United Kingdom

Session Abstract

Much of the literature on collective action has emerged from settings which are somewhat democratic and open. On the other hand, an estimated two billion people currently live in countries where these conditions do not exist and their ability to act is affected by war, high social distrust, political instability and weak or repressive governments on a daily basis. What are the collective action strategies used in such settings? How do they contribute to solidarity and overcoming marginalisation, and greater empowerment and democratic accountability? What can we learn from these settings for our more general understandings of collective action, solidarity and social justice?

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Youth Empowerment In The Occupied Palestinian Territories: Quiet Solidarities, Witness and Testimony

Matt Baillie Smith1, Owen Boyle1, Ahmed Beshtawi2, Rachel Clarke3, Mark Griffiths3

1Northumbria University, United Kingdom; 2An-Najah National University, Palestine; 3Newcastle University, United Kingdom

This paper explores the struggles for agency, empowerment and accountability that emerge through young Palestinians’ experiences of demolitions and how this impacts on their capacities to cope with violence, maintain dignity and build collective action. Through this, the paper aims to contribute to understanding of struggles for social justice in a context defined by repression, the denial of statehood, widespread violence, restrictions on individual mobility and deliberate undermining of Palestinian livelihoods.

The contemporary period of Israel’s occupation of Palestine is marked by house demolition as a form of collective punishment and means to further land sequestration. Since 1948 the prospective and material loss of home has been central to Israel’s control over Palestinian place and people. Hundreds of thousands are placed in great precarity, where the memories, experiences and threats of demolition over long periods engender the anticipation of violence, and with that the fear and anxieties around the future loss of home.

Humanitarian responses to such violence are often characterised by formal, professionalised and immediate approaches that often neglect community-based responses. This can mean that the support after traumatic experiences is based on psycho-social therapy, education and training (UNICEF 2017), positioning affected persons as recipients of time-bound support, rather than acknowledging historically and culturally constituted forms of agency. Young people’s agency is therefore frequently denied, compounding – in the context of Palestine – the denial of youth citizenship under occupation. Restrictions on young Palestinians’ lives and mobilities also requires that their strategies and struggles for justice must often take forms that remain invisible to the surveillance apparatus of the Israeli state.

In this paper, we analyse how young Palestinians navigate this setting in their struggles for social justice and empowerment. We focus in particular on the informal networks and processes of learning and collaboration that young people develop in relation to demolitions and the kinds of solidarities that they build. To do this, the paper proceeds in three sections. In the first, we detail our use of an interdisciplinary participatory methodology combining narrative inquiry and cultural probes in order to reveal the informal and everyday ways young people seek to build solidarities. This approach builds on research that identifies aesthetic, embodied and cultural meaning in the coping strategies of young Palestinians and how fear can facilitate narratives of hope despite denial of agency and citizenship. In the second section, we develop the theme of ‘quiet solidarities’, exploring the ways young people in two settings – the Jordan Valley and South Hebron Hills – build connections and forms of collective identity through cultural and aesthetic practices that offer hidden forms of resistance and efforts to shape theirs and their communities livelihoods. In the third section, we explore how a Bedouin community in the South Hebron Hills has sought to foster transnational solidarities through creating witness and testimony to their struggles from international ‘volunteers’ and visitors, and through their use of social media, photography and documentary film. To conclude, we reflect on the implications of our findings for how we research, conceptualise and recognise strategies for collective action, empowerment and accountability in settings where citizenship, connection and home are denied in different ways.

Flower Throwers At The Frontlines: Social Movement Dynamics And Shrinking Civic Spaces In Nicaragua

Elyne Sarissa Doornbos

Institute of Environmental Science and Technology - Universitat Autònoma de Barcelona (ICTA-UAB), Spain

Globally, the last decade bore witness to heightening threats from regressive forces such as authoritarian governments, right- and left-wing populists, and unaccountable corporations to the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, therewith shrinking the manoeuvring space for civil society actors (CSAs) – ranging from environmental and human rights defenders and other individuals to formal and informal collective entities, including social movements and civil society organisations. Since April 2018, Nicaragua has been the stage of a nationwide civil uprising which evolved from economic and ecological demands into a call for the resignation of the Ortega-Murillo regime, which has stripped Nicaraguans of their political rights and civil liberties. This warrants a deeper understanding of how CSAs may be able to circumvent, reclaim and/or reopen civic spaces in order to advance their alternative visions to a more just, democratic and sustainable society. Through a comparative analysis of four social movements with their roots in agrarian, indigenous, and urban struggles respectively, this paper assesses the dynamics and implications of convergence politics between these movements from the perspective of reclaiming civic spaces. As these movements originate from variegated yet intersectional struggles, the potentials for convergence have much to do with issue-specificness and inclusivity. Meanwhile, with a conceptual understanding of civic space as plural – digital and physical; closed, invited and created – the dynamics of shrinking civic spaces produce differentiated impacts depending on CSAs’ social and organisational positions. As such, these spaces do not only foster the unproblematic formation of united fronts, but can instead also exacerbate struggles between actors over the socialisation of demands. Convergence politics therewith carry the potential to reinforce rather than transform localised sentiments and other structural origins of protest. In Nicaragua, enacting intersectionality may prove crucial to forge new spaces for social movements which are emancipatory rather than exclusionary in practice.

Shrinking political space and challenges for Civil Society in Tanzania

Carl Jonas Ewald1, John William Walwa2

1Linneaus University Sweden; 2University of Dar es Salaam Tanzania

Liberal democracy is on retreat around the world since the peak in 2006, but with great variations in gains and losses between different countries in various parts of the world (Freedom House, 2019), creating strong challenges for civil society, social movements and activists. The “third wave of democracy” and the optimism it spurred (Diamond & Plattner, 1993; Huntington, 1991) have been replaced by a “third wave of autocratization”, as measured through Varieties of Democracy Institute´s (V-Dem) comprehensive index (Lührmann & Lindberg, 2019; Lührmann et al., 2018). Autocratization by them defined as a democratisation in reverse, often in incremental step limiting political space and eroding various traits and quality of democracy to various degrees. In Sub-Saharan Africa the trend is slightly more ambiguous, according Lührman et al., (2018 p.1254) where the current autocratization process on continental level, as measured in the population-weighted index appears to be relatively resilient to the current trend of autocratization.

After about three decades of adopting and practicing multi-party democracy in Africa, there are growing concerns that the political space is shrinking in several countries {Smidt, 2018}, not the least limiting space for both collective action and CSO, limiting the possibilities for a more substantive democratisation.

Tanzania is one of the cases where such concerns have been levelled. The last five years have seen the introduction of a number of repressive laws and practices that are restricting the activities and accountability functions of both CBOs, CSOs, Media and Political Parties, as well as weakening the accountability mechanism of the Parliament, the Justice system, and Auditor General. The economic growth is slowing down, poverty persists, and urbanisation is fast – creating increasing in-equality, marginalisation, frustrations and expectations – as well as risk creating social distrust and democracy fatigue/distrust in the political system.

This paper analyses on the one hand how CSOs and social movements in Tanzania have been affected by last years shrinking political space, and on the other what type of strategies that activist and CSO have developed to meet these challenges – and the eventual outcome of these strategies. Some 8000 CS-organisations exists in Tanzania. Even if is an impressive number, it is only a handful that has larger institutionalised organisations, and to a large extent depending on funding from outside. The combination of competition for funds and shrinking of the political space have made the civil society even more fragmented and project-driven then before. The government not seldom state that the CSO, in particular those who work with Human Rights related issues, are used by Western countries to twist the governments arm. The CSOs have to balance on a fine a line, on the one hand, push agendas as far as possible, and on the other not so far that the activities, activist and participants of the CSO risk to be taken to court or get harassed in different ways. The delicate situation leads to self-censorship, difficulties to mobilise participants and to recruit staff, particularly for those organisations working with accountability related and human rights issues, not the least those related to LGBT issues. Another consequence is that CSO moves out from advocacy work to less political sensitive activities. The great challenge in this context is how to facilitate collective action for broader societal change.

Navigating Civic Space in Fragile Settings: Implications for Empowerment and Accountability

Rosie McGee

INstitute of Development STudies, United Kingdom

Following the March 2020 declaration of a global pandemic by the WHO, many countries introduced measures severely restricting domestic and international mobility and social and commercial activities. In some countries, these measures directly or indirectly targeted key elements of civic space such as media freedom and the right to protest. Enforcement measures included often-brutal police action against political opponents as well as poor and marginalised groups such as street vendors. Reports abounded of Covid-19 being used to justify informal restrictions on the freedoms of women and minorities, and of armed groups and other non-state actors enforcing quarantines and lockdowns. The evidence is increasingly clear that the pandemic triggered a period of significant democratic backsliding that is likely to change governance and democratic practice across the world.

At the same time, many countries have seen a massive increase in grassroots citizen mobilisation for community solidarity and demanding accountability, and many civil society groups have been able to establish partnerships with government for joint action on Covid-19 even in settings characterised by high levels of mistrust and/or repression.

The ‘Navigating Civic Space in a Time of Covid’ project examined patterns of changing civic space and civic action in Mozambique, Nigeria and Pakistan during the first nine months of the Covid-19 pandemic. Led by IDS and working with partners in each country, the project adopted an innovative real-time methodology to explore:

  • how the pandemic affected already shrinking civic space, particularly for activists and critical voices, in these contexts;
  • how civil society actors responded to both the closing of space and the pandemic;
  • what openings and what closures in civic space came about;
  • what all this might mean for the future of governance and citizen-state relations in these countries and globally.

The Navigating Civic Space in a Time of Covid Synthesis Report provides the final synthesis from this work. It lays out the various ways in which civic space was reduced and freedoms undermined in all three countries, and the ways that civic action came together around new issues, through new coalitions and partnerships. It raises important questions about the implications of these changes for the coming years, including for defending and regaining civil liberties and the democratic process – challenges that are likely to be harder still in newer democracies like these.

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