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: A lecture by Juni Thamrin about ³Poverty and The Role of Non-State Agents and Civil Society´ on March 5th , 2011
Civil Society: Empowering the Underpowered
In his lecture, Juni Thamrin highlighted the importance of civil society¶s role in mitigating poverty, given its distinct characteristics and opportunities. Unlike the government (may also be referred as µstate¶) whose agenda is to create a prosperous nation in general, civil society organizations have concerns to the condition going on the grassroots. However, there are particular obstacles that become constraints of this organized group of people. The task that should be carried out by our international community in the future is, therefore, to find a solution for these problems by harmonizing and creating strong relations as well as cooperation between all stakeholders which also include corporations in addition to bureaucracy. It is crucially important to first identify what the term µcivil society¶ should be described as. In his lecture, Juni Thamrin defined it as µnon-state, non-political, and non-market actor¶ who bridges and connects active citizens with one another. Additionally, civil society can also be specifically depicted as non-mandate holders of formal power because they receive supports from the society that they try to empower. Among many issues that arise in state-market-civil society relations, there are several examples that need more attention, such as: 1. Imbalance of power, wealth, as well as inequality of access to the main sources Through direct comparison between poor and elite people, we can easily infer how there exists a serious imbalance of advocacy ability to the government and access to resource distribution in the society. The objective of civil society is to mitigate this gap and make sure that poor people can also obtain sources that are actually allocated by the government. 2. Discrimination and exploitation of poor people Being uneducated and uninformed, poor people are vulnerable to discrimination and exploitation at their workplace. Therefore, another effort that is made by civil society organizations is empowerment so that discrimination and exploitation of poor people can be discontinued once and for all. 3. Deficit of democracy: formal democracy is not enough, need deliberate democracy Another theme that was brought by Juni Thamrin is the absence of established democracy where everybody has the access towards communicating their aspirations. However, it is still questionable upon the measurability of democracy. When their ideas are channeled through representatives at the House, can it be called as deficit democracy or not? This is a puzzling inquiry that should first be answered. 4. The unfair mechanism of law Although most countries do own law as their basis of state, usually unfair mechanism of law still prevails. In Indonesia, this issue can almost be called as common, realizing how there are so many cases which reveals the bad system of law in this country. Seeing that law is very fundamental in a nation, the issue becomes one of civil society¶s central concerns.
5. Environmental degradation/climate change Although there are already many actions and agreements done by the government in responding to environmental degradation, the international community has not seen any significant process. Therefore, this case needs to be solved through other means. With its transnational property, civil society can stimulate new, alternative measures in ending climate change. 6. Poverty and underdevelopment The classic and yet never-ending problem of poverty as well as underdevelopment have always been the main concern of many civil society organizations. So far, there are several measures taken by NGOs in order to empower and equip the society with skill in addition to direct aids whose final goal is to mitigate poverty and underdevelopment. 7. Anti-war, abuse of power, human rights The last but most complex problem that becomes an issue tackled by civil society organizations is abuse of power, violation of human rights, and anti-war campaigns. NGOs find this harder than other issues because it needs direct confrontation with state¶s interest and include high politics matters. Not only in Indonesia, these issues are also common in other countries, although the specific cases might differ in several ways according to their location. The question would then be: how far civil society can engage and contribute in giving solutions? In order to gain multidimensional goals of civil society in an effective way, it is very important to have awareness towards the social condition and stigma of the state or country where they work in. For example, in Indonesia there is a shift of paradigm which also impacts the means used by NGOs in attaining their objectives. To put it briefly, in the old paradigm, Indonesia focused on centralization, modernization, objectivity, as well as constant development of village and underdeveloped areas. These concepts are now changed into decentralization, postmodernism, intersubjectivity, as well as empowerment. Among these change of perspectives, we can find that today¶s government tries to give more chance for autonomous regions instead of centralizing the governance in the capital city. Simultaneously, mobilization of people is transformed into more participation of the people. Conquest and exploitation of people by the government is highly critiqued and slowly altered into more empowerment and preservation. The previous functional relationship between government-to-people is adjusted to a more flexible network of society. National interest comprises territorial concerns, and hence the central government needs to pay more attention to their regional bureaucracy. Plans on conventional economic is advanced to local self reliance development policies which is aimed to sustain and not merely temporal. Among many things that NGOs can do, there are four strategic roles of this entity:
y As a vehicle in building collective awareness of the citizen in terms of exercising their rights and
assert them against the obligations of the state
y Create local democratic mechanism emphasizing division of labor as well as the benefit y Means of rights advocacy at local, national, and international level y Provide education to achieve active citizenship
From this elaboration, we can infer that the focus of non-governmental organizations, or NGOs, is actually aimed to solve the previously stated seven issues. By being a µvehicle¶ in building the collective awareness or intersubjectivity, NGOs intend to commence their actions by strengthening the people¶s minds before enhancing other areas. Simultaneously, NGOs touches the development of democracy for local people. While carrying out means of rights through advocacies, NGOs also provide education to achieve active citizenship. This is usually supported by the people itself because they perceive actions by NGOs as altruistic without hidden political agendas. Additionally, NGOs¶ general characteristics also contribute towards better acceptance from the people. NGOs are recognized as: (1) A number of people with clear visions and missions, (2) A non-profit, value-based organization with voluntary mechanism, (3) Altruism-oriented organization that handles public issues, (4) Directly or indirectly conduct international relations (which makes it an important actor in international relations study), as well as its (5) full admiration on ethics (social justice, human rights, gender justice). These five points construct the society¶s assumption towards NGOs and eventually gain supports from society for these NGOs. The development of NGOs in Indonesia cannot be separated from the dynamics of international economic and political situations itself. International NGOs started to develop firstly post World War (e.g. Plan International) and strengthened through the establishment of United Nations Charter, the Declaration of Human Rights, ECOSOC Resolutions, as well as numbers of summit and international agreements. Interregional cooperation such as AEPF-APF-World Social Forum also contributes towards the further progress by NGOs. Today, parallel summits can become an alternative mean for NGOs to gain attention from states and generate their own version of solutions. However, it is always important for NGOs to make sure that they have supports from the government itself because in the end they are going to need legal and fund supports that come from these institutions. In general, there are some ideological views and jargons that are very attached to NGOs, such as: Think globally, act locally; Working with people and lives shared with them (one world action); Empowerment and equality; Voice of the poor; Putting people first; Participatory development; and People to people solidarity. Hermeneutically, these statements maintain the µgood kid¶ image of NGOs. Generally, the principles of NGOs are done through several empowering methods: Participatory techniques and toolkits, workshop and experiences sharing, community report card, training for trainers, consultation and tutorial, field visit and comparative study, social audit, and citizen chartered. Simultaneously, NGOs also do other supporting activities such as community organizing, nonformal education, educational film, engagement in strategic community events, documenting activity process, initiating reading room and study room for community member , and facilitating community s discussion. In the end, civil society through NGOs intends to create a better world through their alternative means. As also stated previously, these NGOs are benefited because they have opportunities that are not present in market or state actors, but this also becomes a challenge because NGOs do not have abundant resources and their work is more inward looking. However, optimism should always be kept and nurtured because so far these NGOs have shown great progress in empowering the society.
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