Arzu Geybulla

10 October, 2017

Let’s make us great again – why civil society networks need each other more than ever

Arzu Geybulla

Something tells me, we, as in members, representatives, participants and active thinkers of civil society networks, need each other more than ever today. The global political, social and economic order, have changed tides, so much that, while we were all busy doing our own things we have not noticed how our mere presence in this new order of things has been jeopardised.

On one hand, we are fighting harassment, crackdown, and persecution in the hands of the regimes wanting to get rid of independent voices, while on the other, we cannot move fast and effective enough to generate stronger support that would have an impact on regimes cracking down on dissent. The space for civil society is shrinking all the while, the avenues for advocacy mechanisms are exhausting themselves and so are the tactics. But we shall not despair. Because there is still hope. Or at least, this is how I felt, after attending the international civic forum in DC last month.

In a room full of exhausted voices, and all too familiar experiences of fatigue there was hope and energy that made me realise, things were not so bad after all. There is certainly a sense of unity which not only gave me hope to continue doing my job as a journalist but also gave me hope that there are still people, organisations, who want to help, and not only. You see, while it might have felt like a therapy session, coming to the forum as a journalist from a country where civil society has been slowly suffocated, if not on the brink of dismantling, and sharing the experiences of journalists reporting in and outside of such an authoritarian state, it was more than that.

There is an agreement and understanding that in this new order where defamation, persecution, imprisonment and death are the new norm, we as a diverse group of members of civil society must engage and help each other more. Journalists, live off telling stories. We tell these stories, in order to shed light on issues at stake. We tell stories because we want to see change, and help in ways we can. We rely on our sources, just as much as our sources rely on us. It is a two way street and especially in current political context of global affairs, cross sector cooperation cannot be neglected, nor can it be dismissed.

But we must also understand, there are costs to pay. And that tolerance, is not repressive regimes’ highest virtue. Which brings me onto my next point, and that is a need for an international support mechanism that would provide better protection for journalists including freelance journalists who are often subject to higher risks. Whether it requires to gather representatives of organisations supporting journalists in one room, or whether it requires documenting case studies and sharing them with wider international community of stakeholders – we need to improve on our assistance mechanisms. And this also extends to the international donor community – engaging them in more direct ways (whether taking them on fact finding missions, to introducing to heroes of repressive regimes, successful environmentalists or promising philanthropists).

Last but not least, we need to start thinking outside of our usual boxes, step out of the comfort zones and be fully present for each other as a community. I for once, have seen too many examples of responsibilities passed on from one person in one organisation, onto another person, in another organisation. Perhaps there is a need for re-evaluation of all of our actions, focusing only on what has worked, putting aside pride and our differences. Together we can overcome.


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