Civic space is the political, legislative, social and economic environment which enables citizens to come together, share their interests and concerns and act individually and collectively to influence and shape they policy-making. Civic space encourages people to pursue multiple, at times competing, points of view.

A dynamic and plural civic space ensures that governing bodies take into account interests, needs, and concerns of society at large. On the contrary, when civic space shrinks, governments and institutions are less likely to be responsive to citizens’ requests.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights:

“If space exists for civil society to engage, there is a greater likelihood that all rights will be better protected. Conversely, the closing of civil society space, and threats and reprisals against civil society activists, are early warning signs of instability. Over time, policies that delegitimize, isolate and repress people calling for different approaches or legitimately claiming their rights can exacerbate frustrations and lead to instability or even conflict.”

An open, plural and dynamic civic space is a central feature of democratic societies because it allows citizens to be an active part of the political sphere beyond elections. It also encourages governments to be transparent and accountable.

Building on the work of CIVICUS Monitor, the Civic Space Watch focuses on three civil liberties that are at the core of an open, active and plural civic space.

Freedom of association is citizens’ right to organise and collectively engage with the public and political sphere to pursue their shared objectives.

Freedom of assembly is the citizens’ right to come together publicly or privately to manifest, advocate and uphold collective interests. This right includes the freedom to peacefully dissent and protest in respect of others’ rights without fear of punishment.

Freedom of expression is the citizens’ right to have equal access to multiple sources of information, intellectual tools to form diverse opinions and public fora to express alternative viewpoints, drive attention to issues of concerns, and speak out against perceived injustices without hindrance.

To us civic resilience and capacity to stand up against regressive trends is crucial to oppose the systematic erosion of our democracy. Alongside free and independent media, civic organisations and movements represent an essential actor for democratic checks and balances.

In order to favour a dynamic civic space governing bodies must pursue policies and narratives that strengthen civil liberties and empower citizens to be meaningful civic actors. At the same time, governments and institutions have the duty to refrain from, investigate and discipline actions, laws and rhetorics that hinder civic space.

According to the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights, an enabling and safe civic space requires governments and institutions not only to establish a supportive legal framework and provide adequate access to justice but also encourage civic engagement, invest in participation capabilities, and create channels of structured dialogue between public bodies and civil society.

Discover more about the project here.