Speech at the Stockholm Civil Society Days 2019


CPDE Co-Chair Marita Gonzalez spoke on the role of CSOs amid shrinking civic space, at the Stockholm Civil Society Days 2019 Parallel Session organised by CPDE and Task Team on CSO Development Effectiveness and Enabling Environment titled Inclusive Development Partnerships amid Shrinking Civic Spaces: Can CSOs be both watchdogs and partners of governments?

The SCSD is a reoccurring event that this year focused on the 2030 Agenda and the core principle to Leave No One Behind. It was attended by practitioners working for or with civil society organisations involved in Swedish international development cooperation.

SCSD is co-organised by the Swedish International Development Cooperation Agency (Sida), and CONCORD Sweden, a platform of Swedish civil society organisations working towards sustainable development.


Hello everyone.

I come from a country where a cruel dictatorship caused the disappearance of thirty thousand people, including activists, students and unionists, who stood up for their political belief and activism. Mothers of these activists walked around the government square, known as Plaza de Mayo, with their handkerchiefs on their heads to protest against this dictatorship and the enforced disappearances. They asked that their children be surfaced, alive. They traveled the entire world demanding the return to democracy in my country and in Latin America. In Argentina, we often say “when you don’t know which side is right, look to where the grandmothers and mothers of the Plaza de Mayo are. They’ll guide you, and then you’ll know which side to take.”

 Today we are facing a new blow to our democracies, with coup in Bolivia, mass repression in the Philippines, Chile, Haiti, Ecuador, and in 23 other countries. In some of these places, we are once again witnessing extrajudicial killings perpetrated by the State and police forces. In many countries, the persecution of CSOs has intensified.

 We called for reflection among our constituencies in the form of the “Belgrade Call to Action” six months ago. In the face of so much violence against civil society, we believed that we must ask ourselves if we are doing enough, and promptly, to respond to the shrinking of civic spaces. If we are to change this state of affairs, we in the CSOs need to complement our international actions with strong interventions at local and regional levels.

 CSOs play a leading role as development actors, and we are living in an era that, on the one hand, is reaffirmed in the 2030 Agenda as promoter of rights. But on the other, four years since its implementation, we have experienced a setback in the state of human rights, education, and health, in the fight against hunger and climate change, and above all, in the fight against peaceful life, democracy, and strong institutions.

 One of the most important aspects from my point of view is the contradiction that exists between the principles of the 2030 Agenda and the policies exercised by economic agencies such as the IMF and the World Bank in developing countries.

 Our role as CSOs is to highlight the gap that exists between the policies that financial institutions promote (labor reforms, reduction of pensions, reduction of income to CSOs, reduction of the education and health budget) and the main objective of the 2030 Agenda, of leaving no one behind—addressing poverty, inequality, and discrimination.

 We need to create new – and strengthen the existing – civil society campaigns at global, regional, and national levels to protect and enable civil society expression and action spaces. Campaigns that denounce the attacks against human rights, labor, and feminist activists, etc., and condemn the interference of old and new imperialisms that do not respect autonomy and democracy in our peoples.

 It is necessary to challenge the many violations of human rights, including social rights, the right to food and decent work, and to freedom of association. We must fight the repression of trade unions, women’s rights organizations, indigenous peoples, environment advocates, and other cause-oriented movements.

 We are a global platform, but we must engage in local, regional, and global actions because we are in very critical times for individual freedoms and collective rights. The fight for these freedoms and rights demands a strong and united civil society, and strong and united, we will be.#


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