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Clinton On Civil Society


Afghan women march to protest against violence towards women, in Kabul September 24, 2012.

Civil society includes all citizens who work through peaceful means to solve problems and encourage their governments to do better.

Durable change is most likely to come from within a country. That is why, due to its ability to affect change, civil society is invaluable. Civil society includes all citizens who work through peaceful means to solve problems and encourage their governments to do better. They point out the need for change, suggest ideas for change, support the political actions that will produce change.


“Civil society is important everywhere. . . . but nowhere is it more vital than in those states whose futures are unsure,” said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in a recent speech regarding human rights.

Too often, change for the public good is rejected by elites and governments afraid to relinquish even a little bit of their power and acknowledge that their power derives from the will of citizens. As a result, they target civil society in an attempt to block change and protect their own narrow interests. Today, said Secretary Clinton, “the trend of governments cracking down on civil society is on the rise:”

“Civil society is a target because it is, by its very nature, an organized threat to governmental oppression. ... It brings people together around a shared mission, and there are few things repressive governments fear more than citizens banding together with a common purpose. And it reflects a belief that people do not exist to serve their governments, rather, governments exist to serve their people.”

The United States is providing emergency support to hundreds of human rights activists and their organizations around the world, who run into trouble because of their work. We have also created a fund, together with 14 other governments, called Lifeline that provides quick support to non-governmental organizations so that they can continue their work.

The Secretary’s Strategic Dialogue with Civil Society, which served as a model for civil society engagement by other governments, is the State Department’s flagship mechanism for involving civil society in the policy-making process.

Lastly, through our foreign assistance programs, we are also helping civil society actors build the skills they need to do their work more effectively.

Civil society is the underpinning of a free and functioning country, said Secretary Clinton. And that is why “the United States has targeted [its] efforts to preserve the space that civil society and vulnerable people need to make the case for change in their own communities. . . . doing what they know is best for their people and society.”
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