Civil society organisations (CSOs) are increasingly recognised as key players in promoting democratic governance, equitable development and inclusive growth. However, in many countries they also face challenges relating to restricted legal and political space in which they operate. To be able to play their role in society to their full potential, CSOs need an operating environment that gives them the space to act freely.
An enabling environment for CSOs to operate in includes appropriate laws and policies, political space which allows free association and participation, availability of resources (financial and human) and access to technology. It also includes various specific dimensions such as: formation, operation, expression, peaceful assembly, access to resources, and collaboration and coalitions both within civil society organisations and between CSOs and government.
Guaranteeing an enabling environment for civil society is a multi-stakeholder responsibility. Governments need to create legal, regulatory and policy environments in line with internationally agreed rights that support CSOs’ formation and operation. CSOs themselves are called upon to address their legitimacy, credibility and accountability; for instance by considering national and local government plans and priorities and coordinating with other actors and amongst themselves. Providers need to advance the CSO enabling environment in their policy dialogue with recipient governments, while supporting CSOs to operate in a demand driven, accountable and transparent fashion. Further, all stakeholders need to come together to engage in multi-stakeholder dialogue on development policies and plans.
The objectives of the campaign for CSOs to have an enabling environment include having governments review their laws and policies to enable the free operations of CSOs in their respective countries. This would imply retracting restrictive laws hindering the full operation of CSOs, review disabling conditions for CSO formation, registration and operations, including arbitrary policies, duplicating processes and requirements, especially for those working on human rights in critically sensitive environments.
There is also the desire to reverse trends of shrinking and closing civic spaces, and assert the people’s fundamental freedoms of association, of expression, of the press, and political participation, and their rights to peaceful assembly, and information.
WACSI seeks to influence and advocate for government, regional bodies and the private sector to ensure enabling environments that allow CSOs to maximise their contribution to development. To achieve this, WACSI serves as a member of the National Committee on NGO Legal Framework in Ghana. WACSI has been working with the Secretariat for the Ghana NGO Bill and the Financial Intelligence Centre (FIC) as well as the Intergovernmental Action Group against Money Laundering in West Africa (GIABA) on Anti-Money Laundering and Countering Terrorism Financing issues. WACSI has also partnered with the Centre for Regional Integration in Africa to respond to the challenges of regional integration through the Regional Integration Issues Forum (RIIF). In addition to the above, WACSI has been providing up to date knowledge on developments within the civic space through the Civic Space monitor in collaboration with CIVICUS.