Min. Pandor: The role of civil society in advancing human security

The concept of human security was utilised in the early part of this century to refer to the need to address all aspects of social economic and humanitarian needs that confront communities from time to time. There are many diverse examples of inadequate human security and all of them need to be addressed.

Consider the insecurity posed by climate change and unsustainable uses of the environment. Communities living in rural settings often lack the security of a secure and reliable source of energy. They turn to the environment for a response. They chop down trees, buy cheap coal and utilise paraffin and diesel. All these sources of much-needed energy security increase harm, impact on health and affect already vulnerable women and girls as the main gatherer of these energy sources. Community-based organisations and not-for-profit organisations are known to take the lead in alerting government and society to the urgency of climate change.

At times this is done without the presentation of a viable alternative to the destructive practices of communities desperate for energy security. Civil society and governments need to develop new means of interacting with communities and educating them about the benefits that would be secured with greater attention to sustainable practices and greater care for the environment. This a role organisations must still devote attention to.

Consider the human insecurity of inadequate education, gender-based violence and conflict on our continent.

We have made great progress with respect to education access in South Africa. This is an important gain for our democracy as we now have millions of young people completing at least 10 years of compulsory education. Given the poor provision of compulsory education on our continent and in many developing countries, one would imagine South Africa has achieved increased human security through education.

Yet, we are all aware that poor literacy and numeracy outcomes detract from the progress we have achieved. Various organs of civil society play a leading role in ensuring we have more positive outcomes. Initiatives such as the maths and science community initiative in Khayelitsha, Cape Town, give families hope and achievement in a critical subject. Also at the post-school level it is rural-based community organisations that seek out talent in the most rural village and give bright young people the lift of an engineering or medical school bursary and a place in the future.

It is these civil society organisation that support young students in education workshops, community tutorials and community libraries. Civil society groups address a wide variety of challenges and often do so without reward or struggling for resources. Their origins and the spaces in which they work often mean they are trusted interlocutors by communities or individuals in distress.

For millions of women living in fear and insecurity, it is civil society that provides hope and relief. Organisations of women lawyers provide aid in securing protection orders. Hundreds of women in a multiplicity of organisations offer community members help, support and transformed human security.

In a report on human security published in 2000, the UN illustrated the insecurity of conflict and wars very starkly. The victims of this insecurity are often women and children who are displaced abused and suffer the breaches of neglect of international humanitarian law. Once more civil society and non-government organisations are working hard at providing critical relief to displaced women, children and the elderly. Conflicts in Sudan and South Sudan show that women are neglected as victims of war, the focus tends to be on the parties in conflict and not on the survivors. Once more, support should be given to locally based organisations so that they provide the much-needed help.

We need to recognise the important role of civil society organisations by offering them our support and helping them to grow into organisations that are able to determine adequate responses to the complex challenges of human security. In South Africa, we are fortunate to have committed and capable non-government organisations that make vital contributions to human development. Advancing human security and addressing the full meaning of this concept requires us to organise interventions and forms of co-operation that take us beyond existing models.

That may mean that beyond providing humanitarian relief, organisations would empower communities to develop the ability to sustainably enhance their development status or their recovery from natural disasters or internal conflict. For communities experiencing food insecurity, they could be assisted to develop co-operative agriculture that could grow to sustainable local trade through food enterprises. Communities affected by conflict could be supported to regroup, rebuild their lives and create a foundation for security and peace. I have been made starkly aware of the human insecurity experienced by millions in recent months. Lives of communities, especially women and girls, are severely disrupted, at times in hours, not even days.

The premier global organisation for peace, the United Nations, is sorely stretched and challenged in the stressful unipolar environment. It is the most significant multilateral organisation addressing the misdeeds of unthinking men.

We do not often pay attention to the role they play in deploying peacekeepers who volunteer their lives, or funding refugee camps and emergency hospitals in the face of resistance from the wealthiest nations who withdraw funds if not politically attached to a needy community or nation. The UN has no choice but to respond. It and this great organisation, Islamic Relief, are playing such a vital role in the lives of so many, yet we do not fully show appreciation of their immense contribution as organs of civil society, not in a political cause, but in the pursuit of increased human security and the creation of sustainable and empowered communities.

It is my firm belief that the transformative impact of civil society organisation deserves our support and encouragement.

Disclaimer: Article originally published in the Daily Mevarick, on 27 Nov 2019.