Will Philanthropy Be Limited by Government Constraint? This Paper Argues The Case

A new report out of The Netherlands questions whether civil society is headed for shrinkage.

Am I being watched by the government? Am I the kind of activist/writer who might get detained and questioned at the US border? Across the world, activists and social justice leaders are asking themselves scary questions about what the many repressive events of recent days portend for their safety and security, and for political struggle worldwide.

A new report from the Transnational Institute (TNI) in Amsterdam makes the point that civil society may be shrinking in the coming years, as we face increasing barriers to movement-building from government.

The report was created by a group of eight authors, and also several organizations including “Palestine Link, Women Peacemaker Program, Un Ponte Per, AWID, Africans Rising for Justice, and Peace and Development,” as valuable contributors.

The report cites the recent attempts to suppress Black Lives Matter, as well as the “the criminalization of the Boycott, Divestment, Sanctions (BDS) movement” as examples of activism facing repressive action from “states, corporations and the Far Right.”

This report raises important concerns that are central to the cause of gender equality, and to issues related to how and where women fund social movements.  In particular, the report cites donors having higher levels of “risk aversion and securitization,” which will result in “limiting or withdrawal of funding available for both grassroots activism and marginalized causes.” Instead, donors will be more inclined to favor larger, less politicized organizations that are seen as “safer.”

From the report:

The current emergency has been a long time in the making. But only recently has it galvanized a concerted response by organized ‘civil society’, which is now mobilizing to understand and counter what is termed ‘shrinking space,’ a metaphor that has been widely embraced as a way of describing a new generation of restrictions on political struggle. The concept of space itself has different definitions depending on who you talk to. Some understand it as limited to space to influence policy (a seat at the table) while others understand its meaning as political space to organize, to operate, to have a legitimate voice, to protest and to dissent. The former tends to depoliticize contestations while the latter is empowering them. These distinctions concerning how ‘space’ is conceived will shape the type of response warranted, with important implications for who engages in that space and how.

This paper attempts to deconstruct the ‘shrinking space’ narrative by explaining what it means and unpacks some of the problems inherent in the concept. It also considers who is most affected by ‘shrinking space’, and why; where the trend is headed; how it relates to the other dominant paradigms of the 21st century; and how progressive social movements may respond.

Full report is here.

Kiersten Marek

Author: Kiersten Marek

Kiersten Marek, LICSW, is the founder of Philanthropy Women. She practices clinical social work in Cranston, Rhode Island, and writes about how women donors and their allies are advancing social change.

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