Published on: 15/07/2019
The Netherlands is one of the few donors supporting more space for civil society organisations. In 2016, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs launched Dialogue and Dissent, a five-year € 925 million programme, which funds 25 international strategic partnerships aimed at strengthening civil society and the political role of civil society organisations (CSOs) in 72 low- and lower middle-income countries. The Ministry announced that it will fund a € 1,030m follow-up programme called Power of Voices starting in 2021. Together with the new € 410m SDG 5 fund for gender equality, the Netherlands has earmarked nearly € 1.5 billion for civil society strengthening for the period 2021-2025.
In the words of IRC CEO Patrick Moriarty, Dialogue and Dissent is an "incredibly exciting and innovative programme". "We know that politicians react to citizens and citizens' voice" and to drive progress in countries that are not on track to achieve to the Sustainable Development Goal (SDG 6) for water and sanitation, "we need to engage at the political level".
Drawing lessons from several water-related Dialogue and Dissent partnerships as potential inputs for the follow-up Power of Voices programme was the topic of a WASH Debate jointly organised by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, IRC and partners. These inputs were related to the different roles that CSOs play: claiming the human rights to water and sanitation; holding government to account; negotiating on water resources; and addressing power structures. A unique aspect of Dialogue and Dissent is that it encourages grant recipients to also hold the Dutch government to account or its development policies.
The debate attracted some 51 sector professionals to The Hague on 26 June 2019 and over 100 viewers who followed or replayed the Twitter livestream. Participants engaged in a lively discussion with presenters from SNV, Simavi and Both ENDS, and representatives from the Ministry of Foreign Affairs.
In Jakarta, Indonesia, local CSOs were unable to get to the table themselves to support vulnerable groups whose livelihoods were threatened by a mega infrastructure project. Both ENDS Policy Advisor Giacomo Galli described how his organisation was able to "broaden the table" by relaying the concerns of the local CSOs to the Dutch government, which financed the development of the project's master plan. The lessons learned from this experience, making use of the 'Dutch trade and aid agenda' to hold the Dutch private sector accountable for applying human rights and environmental standards, were used to formulate a similar Dutch-financed master plan for Manila, in the Philippines.
A 2014 study concluded that the WASH sector will benefit greatly from increased gender equality. A participant from the Women for Water Partnership (WfWP) told the audience that women know what is required to take up their role: "they are extremely fast learners". Examples of women's involved in Watershed programmes in Kenya and Bangladesh have been mentioned above.
"We need women at the table", said Esther de Vreede. "There are many women in the "soft" social side of WASH, but the technical engineering side is still male dominated. Decisions are made at the table where mostly men are sitting. That needs to change". In Tanzania there is change, reported the WfWP participant. It took 7 years to accomplish, but now nothing happens without consulting women's groups first.
In her conclusion, moderator Daniëlle Hirsch, director of Both ENDS, urged Dutch development partners to engage in efforts to keep civic space as open as possible, even in partner countries where it is shrinking.
Patrick Moriarty thanked Brechtje Paardekooper for her call for greater CSO activism. "We have got to stop nerding-out as a sector", Patrick said. "Yes I believe passionately in evidence, I have a PhD, but we have got to learn how to communicate with politicians". In this respect, including advocacy and negotiation skills in curricula for water professionals would be a step in the right direction.
You will find more information about the current and proposed Netherlands policy frameworks for strengthening civil society, and the three Dialogue and Dissent strategic partnerships mentioned in the WASH Debate listed below under Useful Links. Under Resources you will find the three presentations and the Both ENDS report on the Jakarta master plan.
Acknowledgements: Thanks to Stef Smits and Tettje van Daalen for their inputs to this blog.
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