Two words that are becoming part of our realities as actors in women’s rights movements around the world are “closing” and “space.” Indeed, while not new, the “closing space” phenomenon is dangerously picking up in pace. We are witnessing the culmination of efforts led by governments since the 1990s to control and limit the influence of civil society organizations, especially human rights NGOs. In their fights against human rights groups and activists, no efforts or strategies have been spared: restrictions and bans on foreign and local funding, barriers to registration, public vilification through attacks on the reputations of groups and activists, legal and administrative harassment, violence and threats of violence, closures of organizations. These are just a few of the tactics used by governments.
What is dubbed the “closing space” phenomenon is actually governments suffocating any attempt to question and transform oppressive and unjust status quos. This is happening in Hungary, Russia, India, China, Egypt, Turkey, Burundi, Honduras, Philippines, Uganda, and the list goes on.
And there are also threats and attacks by non-state actors against women’s human rights activists and organizations. Attacks that governments do not seem very interested in preventing.
I believe that this culmination in attacks against women’s human rights organizations in particular, and human rights groups in general, is heralding a new way of organizing. With the closing of the current space that we have occupied, developed, and advanced over the past decades, it is time we reimagine our roles within a different form of collective organizing. Perhaps there is even a lesson to be learned from how governments have inspired each other’s restrictive laws against their respective civil societies. In this new wave of collective organizing that will be emerging, it is imperative that we do a better job of learning from and working with one another beyond our national and regional borders.
There is no doubt that the upcoming years will bring more than their shares of challenges and difficulties. For this, I am very anxious. But I am mostly excited to explore the uncharted territories of our collective love, solidarity, strength, and impact.
Program Director, Freedom from Violence