• 09 September 2021

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    Category : Opinion

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    Civil society: a key partner in the fight against racism and intolerance

    Civil society organisations and groups (CSO) are essential in the field of promoting human rights, equality and non-discrimination

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    Florencia Gaya, a ‘Living together without discrimination’ project specialist and a member of the Spanish Observatory of Racism and Xenophobia (OBERAXE) with technical support responsibilities at the latter, explains what, in her opinion, the fundamental role of Civil Society Organisations is to build more tolerant societies and combat racism and discrimination.

    The value of the work of CSOs and the crucial role they play have been widely recognised by international and European organisations, which very often advocate for the need to generate synergies and actively collaborate with these agents to achieve significant progress in the fight against racism and discrimination¹.

    The  “Living together without discrimination” project, funded by the European Union in which FIIAPP participates, AECID and OBERAXE as a co-delegated institution, share this vision and purpose. The project supports and strengthens the ability of Moroccan non-governmental organisations working in the field of human rights to promote actions or continue with the important work of raising awareness, monitoring and reporting racist and xenophobic incidents, and assisting victims of these events.

    CSOs: key partners in the fight against racism, xenophobia and discrimination

    CSOs work with highly vulnerable groups which are susceptible to these types of attacks, they get a first-hand look at the situation and needs of these groups, giving people and groups suffering from racial or ethnic discrimination a voice, and assisting and accompanying them to claim their rights.

    CSOs also help to raise awareness throughout society, by highlighting the problem, pointing out the many ways in which racism and racial discrimination manifest in different spaces and settings.

    CSOs monitor government activities, demanding that state authorities act to correct inequalities and, because of their depth of knowledge and experience on the ground, offer advice to policy makers and guidance on the steps to take going forward, actively collaborating in public policy-making, measures and national action strategies in this matter.

    These and other reasons make them key pieces in the fight against racism, xenophobia and intolerance. Cooperating with grass roots organisations on the ground, forming alliances and establishing close dialogue with the people and communities affected by these practices is essential to address and respond appropriately to the typical types of racism, racial discrimination and intolerance in each country and context.

    The role of civil society in the fight against racism and intolerance

    Depending on their nature, characteristics, size, objectives, scale or on the level at which they act, CSOs can work in numerous areas to prevent and combat discrimination and intolerance. Among the strategies and courses of action most commonly employed are:

    Education and awareness raising: through awareness raising campaigns and social mobilisation, educational actions on human rights and publication and dissemination of resources, guides and themed documents. These actions can be international, national or local, in-house or in association with other organisations and bodies, and can be aimed at different targets (affected groups, key professionals in different sectors, all citizens).

    Education, training and empowerment: CSOs can play a key role in training, for example, of key agents (state security forces and bodies, legal operators, professionals in social intervention or communication, professionals in educational centres, etc.) to raise awareness of the reality of racism, promote better understanding of this phenomenon and provide them with appropriate tools to combat it. They can also empower potential victims and the groups that work with them so that they know their rights and the methods and resources available to enforce them.

    Support and assistance to victims: CSOs can provide information and assistance to victims, advising and supporting them regarding the steps to follow to deal with these situations.

    Reporting a complaint: CSOs can also report or help victims to file complaints about this behaviour to the courts (including assisting victims in litigation against these cases and in so-called strategic litigation).

    Monitoring, recording and notifying incidents: CSOs can generate systems for collecting information on incidents involving discrimination, racism, xenophobia and intolerance. They can gather information, investigate, document cases and prepare reports on the state of affairs, nature and magnitude of the problem. Collecting and organising information can serve as a tool to influence, support and advocate for the need to change existing policies and practices.

    Advice and technical assistance: because of their valuable knowledge and experience, CSOs can advise, make recommendations and provide guidance for public and private institutions and organisations.

    Advocacy: CSOs can also carry out advocacy actions with authorities at different levels to adopt measures to prevent and combat these practices, they can monitor equality and non-discrimination policies and legislation and help define and improve these measures.

    Networking: to optimise the results, CSOs can also work in partnership with other organisations and key actors to better coordinate and increase the effectiveness of their work.

    On 9 July, some examples of these actions were presented at an unprecedented meeting between Spanish and Moroccan civil society organisations to encourage exchanges of experiences in the fight against racism and xenophobia².

    Relevant organisations from both sides of the Mediterranean such as the “Movement against Intolerance”, the Rumiñahui Association and the Anti-racist Group for the support and defence of foreigners and migrants (GADEM) discussed and shared their vision on how CSOs can contribute and on  strategic initiatives to encourage lasting processes for change in this matter.

    Listening to them is always useful and inspiring: their sustained commitment, specialised knowledge, reflections and lessons learnt over time are a trigger that motivates and helps other organisations and individuals to decide to join this cause.

    United, we move forward at a slower pace

    but we do it better

    “United, we move forward at a slower pace, but we do it better” or why build alliances to confront racism and discrimination

    Racism, discrimination and intolerance are deeply ingrained in our societies. Helping to solve these problems is a shared responsibility that requires joint and continuous efforts by institutions, specialised agencies, social partners, civil society organisations and the private sector.

    In this sense, there is a consensus that to deal with these problems more effectively, it is essential to establish instruments and mechanisms for coordination between relevant public agents, to collaborate with CSOs, and encourage spaces for joint work.

    Hence the importance of establishing alliances, networks or coalitions to stamp out racism and discrimination. Mainly, because we achieve more when we work together, our actions have a greater impact, and because “united, we move forward at a slower pace, but we do it better”.

    This was highlighted at a virtual meeting held a few weeks ago³, by representatives from the “Assistance and guidance service for victims of racial or ethnic discrimination” of the Council for the Elimination of Racial Discrimination (CEDRE), and the Eraberean Network for equality and non-discrimination promoted by the Basque Government. These are two public services, one state and the other regional, which rely on the work of specialised non-governmental organisations to identify, register and investigate cases of discrimination, and to assist victims of these events.

    Two examples of Spanish good networking practices in the fight against racism, discrimination and xenophobia, from which we were able to reflect on the advantages and challenges of these collaborative work models by institutions and civil society organisations.

    Thanks to their useful contributions, we are more aware of the added value that CSOs bring to the fight against discrimination and intolerance and of the need to join forces to improve the work, tools and methodologies available to prevent and eradicate these practices, allowing us to make greater progress.


    ¹Specialised United Nations bodies, as well as the European Commission against Racism and Intolerance (ECRI), the EU Agency for Fundamental Rights (FRA), the European Network of Equal Treatment Bodies (Equinet) and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights (ODIHR) of the OSCE have highlighted the essential role and importance of working with civil society organisations to respond more effectively to racism, xenophobia, discrimination and other forms of intolerance.

    More recently, along the same lines, the “EU Anti-racism Action Plan” for the period 2020 – 2025, approved on 18 September, underlines and urges Member States to dialogue and collaborate more actively with civil society organisations to promote inclusion, basic rights and equality and to ensure that voices of people who experience racism on a daily basis are heard and considered.

    ²The virtual meeting, entitled “Civil society and the fight against racism and xenophobia in Spain and Morocco”, was held on 9 July within the framework of the “Forum for the exchange of experiences with civil society”.

    ³A virtual meeting to present Spanish experiences of networking and cooperation to fight racial and ethnic discrimination, racism and xenophobia was held within the framework of the project on 28 April.

    The views and opinions expressed in this blog are the sole responsibility of the person who write them.

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