Citizens are at the center of governance. Inclusion of citizens is therefore the foundation for a strong democracy where policies and services need to be of relevance and correspond to citizen needs. Citizens gain ownership of the governance processes only when they are a part of decision-making processes. Citizens should therefore not only be targets by policymakers but included in the processes. Political institutions are the vehicles for citizen inclusion and to ensure their needs are addressed. However, lack of representation due to gender, age, ethnicity, or class is a reality. If exclusion exists there is a risk and threat to the social contract and the purpose of the state. This could be a challenge to the resilience of democracy. At the Oslo Center, we acknowledge the importance and necessity of achieving equitable societies. By supporting processes that promote inclusiveness, we believe that sustainable democracies can be built where the citizens, no matter status, are at the center of all levels and aspects of decision-making.
Women’s participation is a crucial foundation for gender equality and genuine inclusive democratic governance. Unfortunately, women encounter strategical underrepresentation and discrimination. The exclusion of women’s representation in decision-making processes is consequential. We are continuing to see harassment, sexual exploitation, discrimination, economic and social consequences, and harmful practices that are excluding women and girls from opportunities and endangering their lives. Strengthening women’s role and representation in politics creates the avenues for tolerance, inclusivity, and parity to engender, both the political environment and the society. Giving women the recognition of their capacity and skills in the space of politics and leadership will create a vibrant and sustainable democracy that all will benefit from.
Youth represent an important demographic group in society, bringing opportunities for both innovation and change. However, youth often experience exclusion from democratic processes on issues that directly affect their lives and future. Consequences can be lack of trust and indifference toward politics, which could lead to disaffection, violence, radicalization as well as erosion of democracy. The Oslo Center strongly acknowledges the importance of enhancing youth’s capacity and confidence in the political specter for voices to be raised and heard. Through the processes of building bridges and space for dialogue between youth and the decision-makers, the avenue for increased political engagement opens, and the potential for sustainable development arises.
Youth Assemblies is a concept initiated in Mombasa, Kenya, which engages youth to take an active part in driving peaceful, democratic change in a society prone to insecurity. The concept builds on local mechanisms for dialogue and works through consultative parliamentary sessions, where issues of concern for the youth at the grassroots are brought forward. Issues identified are presented to targeted stakeholders, and results are reported back to the youth assemblies. The work and methodology developed are unique and encourage holding the government and stakeholders accountable, youth raising their voices and taking their place in society – as well as building and encouraging a culture of democracy. Through a holistic process, avenues for youth inclusion in dialogue and decision-making as well as collaboration between youth and stakeholders are created. Currently, the Oslo Center is active in assisting two youth assemblies – Kwale Youth Assembly (KYA) and Lamu Youth Assembly (LYA). Both KYA and LYA are based on the success of the initiated Mombasa Youth Assembly and share the overall goal to support youth in identifying local issues and solutions and influence county decision-makers to find and implement actions to their long-standing grievances. The aim of the program is to increase youth’s voices through confidence and capacity building and for them to see the effects and results of the issues they have brought to attention in the local communities.
In collaboration with the Christian Democratic International Center (KIC Sweden), the Oslo Center has implemented the project Empowering Women in Politics (EWIP) in Kenya. This project is part of an overall EWIP program where the main goal is to contribute to increasing the participation and influence of women in politics in four countries in sub-Saharan Africa. We believe that strengthening the position and role of women in politics can only be effective when engaging in political parties; therefore, the main target groups of the program are women active in political parties and senior management of political parties. The main strategies used are capacity development of women, mainly focusing on communication skills and on confidence building, and capacity enhancement of party leadership keen on strengthening the gender policy perspective and technical capacity to gender mainstreaming. Through our tailor-made approach, which encompasses timing, local knowledge, and local ownership, the Oslo Center’s work with political parties has laid a strong foundation for strengthening women in politics. In the development of the project, we have enhanced our focus on widening the space for women’s influence and decision-making in political parties and building women’s capacity to enhance their electability in elections. Through these avenues, the EWIP program will effectively gain effective results and continuously enhance women’s role in political systems.
In Myanmar, the Oslo Center has, through several project phases, supported youth to raise, discuss and advocate for issues of their own concerns in order for them to strengthen their position in democratic processes. In 2012, the Oslo center contributed to hosting a youth conference in Kachin State where young people from the state met and discussed issues related to federalism, the ongoing conflict in Kachin, and the peace process. Two years later, in close collaboration with the Norwegian Burma Committee, the Oslo Center supported the United Nationalities Youth Forum (UNYF) in the establishment of a platform where youth from all over Myanmar could meet and discuss issues related to the political development in the country, identified by the youth themselves. The primary goal and objective of the project have been to involve and include youth in political and legislative processes. Through the established permanent platforms for youth dialogue, the project aim was to unite youth across ethnic and religious divides, engage them in politically relevant governance issues and thereby contribute to peace and reconciliation at local and national levels.
In cooperation with the National Democratic Institute (NDI) and the Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA), the Oslo Center initiated a program in 2016 supported by the Carnegie Corporation of New York (CCNY). The project was finalized in 2018 and created innovative bottom-up indicators of Citizen Inclusion and Confidence (CIC) in transitional processes. The aim of the CIC-indicators was to inform national and international policymakers on citizen priorities regarding inclusion. The project produced new research and analysis that can contribute to inclusive policymaking through mechanisms that could increase public confidence and citizen inclusion in transitional political processes in Kenya and South Sudan and beyond. The key findings from the research, including CIC indicators and research method, as well as policy recommendations for Kenya and South Sudan, were published in a report titled Transitional Processes and Citizen Inclusion in Kenya and South Sudan. There were several stages of the launch of the report, including validation and dissemination workshops, engaging key stakeholders and relevant individuals for comments and contributions. The launch has sparked great interest and valuable discussions among local and international policymakers and civil society actors.
From 2012 to 2016, the Oslo Center has worked with democracy support in South Sudan in collaboration with the South Sudan Youth Participation Agency (SSYPA) to strengthen the dialogue mechanisms between the different ethnic groups. Through the established Youth Dialogue Forums at the state and national level, the project aimed to unite youth across ethnic divides, create engagement in relevant political and governance issues and contribute to realizing peace and reconciliation, as well as to involve youth in political and legislative processes. The project has, through three project phases, established Youth Dialogue Forums in six original states. Several Youth Dialogue Forums have been conducted at the national level to address important peace and governance issues. The involvement of civil society in South Sudan is essential for its democratic development. As youth constitute almost 70% of the population, they are therefore a natural and important target group. The established Youth Dialogue Forums at state and national levels have been recognized by civil society and the government as important platforms for engaging youth in the ongoing democratic developments in the country. The most important achievement of this project is that the culture of dialogue and reconciliation began to take root among the youth through the platforms of the Youth Dialogue Forums. The youth participating in the Dialogue Forums are now more aware of the importance of dialogue in promoting peace and are enthusiastic about working together for the democratic development in South Sudan. The project was supported by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs (2012/2013) and the Swedish Postcode Foundation (2013-2016).
Holy sites are of crucial spiritual and cultural significance to billions of people across the globe. Yet, history demonstrates again and again how easy it is for sacred places to become inextricably caught up in political, territorial, and religious disputes, becoming pawns of conflict themselves. Harm to holy sites has an impact on the core of people’s identities, reinforces community trauma, and adds a deep symbolic dimension to the conflict. Attacks on places of worship frequently fuel the escalation of violence as well. The result of all this is that too often, in the minds of many, religion becomes a synonym of violence, losing its potential to be a force for peace, justice, and reconciliation. The Universal Code of Conduct on Holy Sites is a cutting-edge strategy to mitigate interreligious conflict and build peace across the globe. See more information on the webpage of this joint initiative between the Oslo Center, One World in Dialogue, Search for Common Ground, and Religions for Peace. To read more about the collaboration click here: http://www.codeonholysites.org/
Lamu Youth Assembly
Through the Oslo Center’s concept, Youth Assemblies, we aim to create a platform that enhances youth participation in politics and identifies the citizen’s needs. In Lamu – one of the most marginalized communities in Kenya, the Youth Assembly dialogue forum, also known as baraza, has raised the issues of challenges within the education sector. Read more here