Posts Tagged ‘David Mattingly’

What can funders do for Human Rights Defenders during COVID-19?

September 29, 2020

 David Mattingly in Open Global Rights asks: “What Kind of Support Do Human Rights Defenders Need During COVID-19?“. The details are worth it:

 

…as governments grapple to provide relief, local organizations and activists are playing a critical role in responding to the pandemic. But they continue to face increased restrictions, threats, and attacks intended to curtail activism and stifle dissent—and they urgently need sufficient resources and political support from the international philanthropic community to continue their efforts.  The Fund for Global Human Rights initiated a COVID-19 impact survey to assess the challenges and opportunities that emerged for civil society over the first three months of the pandemic. Drawing on a deep global network of frontline activists and organizations from more than twenty countries, the Fund surveyed over 200 grantee human rights organizations in late April and early May to better understand how the pandemic has impacted their work. [see: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2020/07/23/us1-million-fund-to-support-100-ngos-hit-by-covid-19/]

The survey offers valuable insights into how the activism landscape has changed—and what kind of support is necessary to sustain human rights work through this period of global crisis and beyond. Despite the challenging circumstances, frontline activists are demonstrating remarkable resilience and pivoting to respond differently to community needs. 

Nearly half of the survey’s respondents reported that they were still able to engage in their core work areas, like advocating for LGBTQ equality or defending Indigenous peoples’ land and resource rights. And 40% of respondents said that they were able to continue some core activities while also taking on new areas of work such as monitoring government actions in response to the pandemic, documenting the impact of COVID-19 on their constituencies, or providing community education on health and safety. Remarkably, 11% of respondents said that they had engaged entirely with these new areas of work or activities, which  they had not previously carried out, in order to address the pandemic. A minimal number of respondents—only 3%—answered that they were unable to continue working, and none expected to shut down entirely. 

Despite this largely positive outlook, the picture is likely to change over time as groups learn of more lost funding, donors shift priorities, and the public health crisis deepens across new geographies. This change is already taking place as activists working with historically marginalized groups—including Indigenous peoples and religious, ethnic, and racial minorities disproportionately impacted by COVID-19—have seen firsthand.

Around the world, botched or wanting pandemic responses have highlighted deep cracks in global and domestic systems—from massive disruptions in the transnational food supply chain to marginalized workers being excluded from government assistance programs. Human rights activists have demonstrated their capacity to redirect their resources and balance short-term—and often life-or-death—priorities with their longer-term goals. Thanks to this capacity for adaptation and responsiveness, civil society is poised to meet this moment of reckoning. 

However, human rights defenders are working under tremendous pressure. The pandemic has generated new priorities and urgencies, even as the immense challenges of frontline activism have multiplied. 

From Hungary to Brazil, governments have taken advantage of lockdowns and emergency measures to close civic spaces, curb fundamental freedoms, and stifle opposition. And in an effort to consolidate power, authoritarian or populist leaders are abusing prudent health and safety restrictions to specifically target human rights defenders. Nearly half of survey respondents reported that they had already been targeted by restrictions, curfews, or containment measures.

In Honduras, several prominent activists were arrested on trumped-up charges related to the pandemic, many of whom were attacked or jailed without access to legal recourse. Over 50% of survey respondents reported challenges to the normal functioning of protection mechanisms for human rights defenders.

In addition to these mounting dangers, survey respondents reported that infrastructure issues—including lost funding (37 respondents), sick staff (10 respondents), and reduced staff due to budget cuts (25 respondents)—were impacting their work. A quarter of respondents reported that technical difficulties, such as the lack of reliable internet or access to banks, pose a major challenge. Others mentioned dealing with impacts to their personal well-being, looking after sick family, or lacking access to critical supplies as paramount difficulties—an important reminder that human rights defenders are vulnerable to the same systemic inequalities they fight to overcome.

The imperative for human rights groups to demonstrate their relevance by addressing their community’s needs is made crystal clear by the impacts of the pandemic, which cut across areas of economic and social rights, health rights, migrants’ rights, and beyond. As they fill gaps in governments’ pandemic responses and fight for those most vulnerable to receive the resources and attention they need, frontline groups have the opportunity to continue expanding their grassroots constituencies by demonstrating their value to more people.

In recent years, the international human rights movement has been in a process of rethinking its role and strategies, and the pandemic is accelerating this reflection. This kind of crisis—and the myriad effects reported by survey respondents—begs funders to consider how they balance being nimble, adaptive, and reactive to emergencies such as COVID-19 with the values and strategy of long-term support and movement building.

These examples and data demonstrate the importance but also the effectiveness of partnering with frontline groups that are rooted in their communities and well-positioned to continue their critical, long-term work even as they adapt to shifting priorities. As funders, we must trust our frontline partners to assess their communities’ greatest needs and offer the flexibility to pivot amid a crisis. This means flexible funding, of course, but it also entails support for holistic security and wellness, and emergency funds and political support for activists that are targeted.

As different groups learn to navigate this new operating environment, it is critical that funders make space for cross-regional and intersectional exchanges, following the lead and priority of frontline activists, to compare  strategies, share learning, and foster solidarity.

More than 70% of survey respondents said they had explored or considered engaging with other groups working on similar issues and were interested in connecting with their peers. But with nearly a quarter indicating they have unreliable internet, funders must play a greater role in providing tech support and the means to collaborate. 

The Fund’s COVID-19 impact survey set out to answer the same question activists ask every day: what does our community need? The answers were a heartening reaffirmation of the resilience of civil society, as well as a pertinent reminder that, in times of crisis, our support must meet the demands of the moment.  

The pandemic is accelerating the need for adaptation and, as funders, we should take our cue from how local rights groups are nimbly pivoting to address both immediate and longer-term needs. As grassroots activists and advocates overcome mounting adversities to offer life-changing support in a historic moment of global turmoil, funders must learn, adapt, and evolve alongside them.

https://www.openglobalrights.org/what-kind-of-support-do-human-rights-activists-need-during-covid-19/

5 things funders should know about the impact of human rights activism

November 20, 2019
Fund for Global Human Rights horizontal logo

Measuring the effectiveness of a grant can be tricky – it’s often hard to see the real impact of the work activists do. But the need is as great as ever. People who defend human rights face mounting challenges around the world: restrictive laws, patchy public support, physical and digital threats, and attacks from organised crime, corporate interests and religious fundamentalists. In this moment, it’s critical that funders in the international arena stick with their frontline grantees.

At The Fund for Global Human Rights, we’ve spent more than fifteen years supporting such activists. Through this, we’ve learned five key lessons about how to measure the effectiveness of grassroots human rights work – takeaways that, in this challenging global environment, all supporters of grassroots activism can use.

1. It’s not about the numbers

People hostile to human rights and their defenders are spreading mistrust about civil society, so funders and activists are being pressed to demonstrate more wins, bigger gains and higher figures. But activism isn’t a numbers game – the changes we achieve can’t always be quantified. To understand what drives progress we have to look beyond the numbers that funders often use to measure success: how many schools were built, say, or how many people attended a workshop or community meeting. Three new schools don’t guarantee equal opportunity for all pupils. And high turnout at a meeting does not mean the information shared was useful or later applied.

For example, the Fund recently brought together migrants’ rights activists from North Africa, Latin America and the US to form alliances, share learning and discuss better ways to protect the rights of child migrants. We aren’t measuring the success of that convening by counting how many people attended. The real impact comes afterwards, when participants return to their work with fresh ideas, new contacts and strengthened resolve. Numbers alone don’t tell that story.

2. Change takes time

Movements aren’t built in a day – or by a one-year, one-off grant. Philanthropic organisations often award short-term, restricted funding and measure impact project by project. But real progress requires flexible financing over the long term.

Look at a recent landmark moment for India’s LGBTQ movement. In September 2018, India’s Supreme Court struck down a provision in the country’s penal code that essentially outlawed same-sex relations and encouraged discrimination by criminalising “carnal intercourse” as “against the order of nature”. That victory was the result of decades of work by Fund grantees like Ondede-Swatantra and Vikalp Women’s Group, as well as other courageous activists who campaigned tirelessly to defend the fundamental rights of LGBTQ people. For more than a decade, the Fund has stood with and supported these remarkable activists with long-term, flexible financing and other forms of continued strategic support. The years of renewed support paid off when they achieved an historic victory. Would this incredible success have been realised if, half-way through a protracted legal and social battle, funders had pulled their support?

3. Measuring failures and setbacks is key

Learning from adversity can bring more insight than analysing a victory. The entire human rights community can learn from transparent reporting and honest assessment.

For example, during a visit to a grantee in Myanmar, Fund staff observed that no women were participating in meetings. We raised this issue with our grantee, and thanks to our long-term support and close working relationship they trusted us enough to have a frank discussion about it without fear of reprisal. The activists explained the challenges they face due to cultural norms in gender roles, but also took responsibility for their failure to prioritise gender parity. As a result, far from terminating the grant-making relationship, we’re providing them with additional resources, such as exchanges with women’s rights organisations, in order to adopt a strong feminist approach. We’re also undertaking a gender audit of the Fund’s entire Myanmar programme, because we believe that more inclusive organisations and movements are more powerful. Failure can be a bitter pill, but measuring and learning from it is essential.

4. Little victories add up to big results

Real progress is often the result of many small steps. Not every success story makes the news, but incremental victories can amount to lasting, systemic change. Take Fund grantee the Lesbian and Gay Legislative Advocacy Network Philippines, or LAGABLAB, as an example. Although the Congress of the Philippines failed to pass a national Sexual Orientation, Gender Identity and Expression (SOGIE) Equality Bill last year, LAGABLAB’s members still managed to mobilise a faction of equality champions in government and inspired eighteen cities, six provinces and three local districts to pass their own anti-discrimination ordinances. These victories at the personal or local levels pave the way for larger national outcomes – and they should be celebrated, too. By investing in incremental change, we’re building the foundation for something larger.

5. Context matters

Measuring impact can be like comparing apples and oranges. Success looks different everywhere, and positive social change in one environment might not even be possible in another. The Fund awarded its first grants to Tunisian human rights organisations in 2004. Long stifled by the administration of former president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali, Tunisian civil society received little support from US and European funders. We recognised that under Ben Ali’s brutal rule many local groups had necessarily modest ambitions. So for years we supported besieged human rights organisations, helping to keep their lights on and operations afloat. We understood that making an impact in Tunisia meant maintaining a nascent human rights movement that would be able to step forward when the time came. Less than six months after a discouraging Fund visit to Tunisia in October 2010, that opportunity arrived. Popular protests overthrew the Ben Ali regime, human rights activists were welcomed back into public life and civil society emerged to help build a new Tunisia based on dignity and equality. That movement existed, in part, because we recognised that its survival through a difficult period was a victory in and of itself. Using context to set realistic expectations ensures that every activist receives the right support.

https://www.opendemocracy.net/en/frontline-insights/5-things-funders-should-know-about-impact-human-rights-activism/

See also: https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/10/22/carnegie-paper-international-community-must-redouble-efforts-to-defend-human-rights-defenders/

and https://humanrightsdefenders.blog/2019/07/18/important-report-to-help-you-understand-human-rights-grantmaking/