Articles 19-21 of The Universal Declaration of Human Rights outline fundamental rights of participation -those of opinion, expression, assembly, association, and to take part in a government directly or through freely chosen representatives. These principles guide our efforts to empower civil society and citizens to participate.

Civil society has an important role to play as an independent voice in a community. The participation of civil society organizations in public life is vital to consolidating and amplifying the needs of those they represent. Historically their participation has been important for drawing attention to overlooked problems and developing community-driven solutions. They also inform other citizens about the importance of why and how to participate. They have a critical role in promoting accountability among decision-makers.

In recent years, a rise in authoritarianism has created new challenges for civil society. Strict laws governing NGOs, donations, cyber-security and anti-terrorism have made the work of civil society organizations increasingly difficult. We believe now is a more important time than ever to support the right of civil society to participate in public affairs.

Our work has sought to build understanding and capacity among civil society to carve out civic space to participate. At a more fundamental level, we support the development of participatory training that empowers both facilitators and participants. Our work often prioritizes the participation of vulnerable groups, including those representing women, persons with disabilities, migrant workers and children.

We also work with local civil society to learn about and propose participatory mechanisms that can gather citizen feedback in a more genuine and representative way. In addition, in the past we have supported the development of independent civil society-based monitoring of both local elections and detention facilities (See our 2012 election report).