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Voice and governance

Voice and governance

Christian Aid works to empower poor and marginalised communities to influence the decisions that affect their lives. We believe that poverty is structural, caused by imbalances in power.

Our governance programmes focus on the needs and rights of the poorest and most vulnerable groups in society, considering the multiple ways in which people suffer inequality and powerlessness. 

We have gained expertise in delivering governance and civil society programmes, including through large supplier contracts. 

Christian Aid’s accountable governance programming has three main areas of work: 

  1. Our power and voice programmes empower people, increasing the power of poor and marginalised women and men by strengthening their voice, helping them to engage with and influence those in positions of authority, and to participate in their own governance.
  2. We promote citizens’ engagement with the state, and help them to engage in dialogue to ensure planning and budgeting is inclusive and participatory.
  3. We aim to change the way that public authorities (governments, state institutions and non-governmental organisations and the private sector) respond to the voice of poor people, so that they change their policies and the way they govern or the manner in which they deliver services.

Good standards of governance require transparency if governments and duty-bearers are to be open and accountable.

Our approach

Our approach is founded on the principle that citizens, especially those with least power, must have opportunities to actively participate in their own governance and influence their own development if it is to be for their benefit and sustainable in the long-term. This includes:

  • Access to basic services or natural resources - the groups that are most marginalised and vulnerable have least influence over how essential services are provided or how access to resources is regulated. 
  • Access to justice and protection of legal rights - to protect rights, people need an awareness of rights and access to a functioning justice system to defend them.
  • Tax justice - working to promote fairer tax systems, the right to information and the opportunity to seek redress and complain about poor services and behaviour.
  • Democratic engagement and accountability of government to the people - this can take many forms, but involves a relationship based on free elections and being answerable to the electorate.   
  • Active citizenship - strengthening communities and civil society to sustainably engage and influence.
  • Responsive state - strengthening elected representatives, government officials and service providers to understand, engage and respond progressively to improve service provision.

Rights and power relations are fundamental means by which people can combat poverty, influence policy, make their voices heard, make decisions, and hold decision makers to account.

For those in power and duty-bearers, rights and just power relations means they are held to account, they have to answer for actions and policies, they have to improve how they govern and deliver services and they have to respond to the real needs of people, especially the poorest and most marginalised men and women in the communities they serve.

‘I have benefited a lot. I have learned about lobbying. I have lobbying skills. At first I thought I needed cash before I could do things. But now I know how to negotiate. I pay tax too and the assembly helps us.’
Sulemana Zainabu,
Seamstress, LEARN Project, Ghana

Results

Our work on voice and governance demonstrates the change we can help people to create. 

Community capability, voice and engagement

In Nigeria, the Voice to the People programme helped communities produce their own Charters of Demands as expressions of community need and demand for good governance, services and infrastructure. These demands are presented to local government and the planned budgets and services of the local district councils are followed up on and monitored by the community.

Participatory budget planning

In the DRC, the Civil Society Fund helped to improve engagement between local authorities and citizens. This included giving local people a voice in how and where public resources should be spent where they live. 86 budgets were drafted with citizen participation. 

We had a lot of feedback especially when we were trying to explain that the budget process was not the preserve of civil servants.

Marie-Josée Kandiambu, Levain des Masses-CRONGD, Bas Congo

Citizen groups and local authorities are collaborating

In Sierra Leone, the ENCISS programme opened up channels of dialogue between councils and civil society. This included accountability platforms where CSOs came together with councillors, ward committee members, citizens and others to discuss development plans.

By facilitating direct discourse with Freetown City Council, the event allowed residents to address pressing matters that affect their day-to-day wellbeing, to understand the council’s priorities and constraints.

Santigie Kargbo, Freetown, Sierra Leone. 

Tackling unfair tax exemptions

In Guatemala, unfair tax exemptions for businesses were challenged by Christian Aid’s civil society research and advocacy partner ICEFI. Complex technical information was simplified so that different sectors of civil society could understand how local governments, public education and the judicial system would be directly affected by budget cuts resulting from the huge tax breaks.

This helped to strengthen partnerships and generate new ones. One example is the alliance with the Chamber of Commerce, a former adversary of ICEFI’s proposals on progressive tax reform. The pressure exerted by ICEFI forced the legislators to provide space to openly discuss amendments to the initiative. As a result, the proposed bill supporting the unjust tax exemptions was withdrawn.  

'There has been an increase in women’s participation in decision making at community, local government and state levels. The position of women is gradually changing due to sensitisation and the enlightenment of the people. The women are no longer waiting for men to take decisions for them, they are now part of decision making, they have joined formal structures of government and are demanding their rights. Girls are also participating in decision making processes and are participating in elections to ensure sustainability.'

Eucharia Anaekwe
V2P, Nigeria

Resources

Published
A toolkit and how to guide for civil society organisations in Africa to help hold their governments to account for the consequences of their policies. Produced by Christian Aid, CAFOD and Trócaire.
Published
A participatory governance assessment in Sierra Leone, focused on Christian Aid’s partner SEND and its Women in Governance Project in Kailahun district.
Published
Kenya is one of five country studies carried out as part of an organisational assessment of Christian Aid’s work on accountable governance.
Published
Christian Aid Bangladesh has been implementing the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) Standards in Accountability and Quality Management1 since 2011.
Published
This assessment is part of a wider corporate impact study at Christian Aid that includes five country studies, using different evaluative approaches to understand and document a range of different governance programmes.
Published
An assessment of our governance work, particularly looking at the impact of the Humanitarian Accountability Partnership (HAP) Standards and Participatory Vulnerability and Capacity Assessments in Bangladesh and the occupied Palestinian territory.
Published
A synthesis of findings from a learning review of donor-funded governance programmes.
Published
A summary report including achievements, lessons learnt and case studies from the ENCISS programme.
Published
A summary report including achievements, lessons learnt and case studies.
Published
This toolkit is to help Christian Aid programmes develop and deepen our strategies for working on land.
Published
This report seeks to contribute to greater understanding of how people respond to and resist land dispossession.
Published
A report examining the dramatic increase in demand for large-scale land acquisitions in developing countries from investors.
Published
Power analysis is the frameworks, principles, knowledge and tools for understanding those who have the abilities to create or resist change.
Published
This guide for Christian Aid staff and partners explains what power is, why it is important, how and when to implement power analysis, and which tools to use.
View more resources

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