Senior Program Officer Ibrahim Faruk during a learning visit to Hague

How Social Movements Can Achieve Purpose in Shrinking Civic Spaces

Senior Program Officer, Youth Programs, Ibrahim Faruk Shares Experience from Oxfam Novib Learning Event at the Hague

Social and youth movements are increasingly playing credible roles in global affairs including shaping policy agendas, political programmes and have become an important element of global democratic developments. Social and youth movements across Africa and Asia have also shown high flexibility and creativity in finding innovative ways to organise and express themselves even within the most restrictive political systems. Against this background, youth activists from Egypt, Kenya, Nigeria (from the Not Too Young To Run) movement, Pakistan, Somaliland and Tunisia were invited to The Hague by from the 6th -12th October, 2019 by Oxfam Novib to discuss and share how young people are using innovative ways in contexts of shrinking civic space to make their voices heard and how Dutch development cooperation and funding mechanisms can support the voices of youth.


Recent years have seen a trend towards civic space shrinking in countries all over the world. According to CIVICUS’ State of Civil Society 2018 Report, civic space is now under serious attack in 111 of the world’s countries and only four per cent of the world’s population live in countries where fundamental civil society freedoms – of association, peaceful assembly and expression – are respected. As restrictions target many rights-based development and advocacy groups, shrinking civic space cuts into the heart of the values of social and youth movements.

The activists at The Hague from diverse fields ranging from youth anti-Female Genital Mutilation, to sexual and reproductive health rights, economic empowerment, human rights protections and youth political participation shared similar values and practices. The methods adopted by movements of achieving their purposes can inspire more institutionalised civil society organisations to refresh their ways of working. Informal youth movements, groups, networks, artists and (many) individuals that seemingly act fragmented but have similar goals and activities. Youth movements often act in very different ways than more traditional civil society organizations have done, as activists, as influencers, as entrepreneurs, as disrupters, as peacebuilders.

Using various methodologies at a Learning Event, the young activists at The Hague, learned about civic space, presented World Cafe scenarios using their movements, facilitated workshops and had a panel debate with the Dutch Ambassador for Youth Education and Work, at the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Tijmen Rooseboom. Young activists were able to share in a safe space their stories and lead reflective sessions on the role of organizations and development cooperation in general to work together with youth and their organizations.

When space for civil society is shrinking, it is often the voices of youth that are affected first. Young women and men face other systematic challenges to make their voices meaningfully heard. They are marginalised from- or side-lined in decision-making processes that affect their lives. Young people need to deal with institutional, social and cultural barriers that limit the places and spaces for the articulation of their needs and concerns.


Throughout history young people have been key drivers of change. They have wishes and dreams that are different than adults have or know. The same can be said of young activists across the world such as those who brought the Arab Spring, or currently the youth movements demanding action on climate change that are sweeping the globe.


Ibrahim Faruk is a Senior Program Officer with YIAGA AFRICA’s Youth Program and is a member of the Leadership and Strategy Team of the Not Too Young To Run Movement.  He can be reached via [email protected] He tweets via @IbrhmFaruk


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