Civil society and the challenge of changing power relations between the poor and the élite

image of Civil society and the challenge of changing power relations between the poor and the élite

This chapter addresses a well-recognized but much-avoided subject, that of changing power relations between those who have and those who do not, and the roles of civil society organizations (CSOs) in doing so. While locating this debate in the context of state-society relations, and recognizing that without state engagement and support lasting change will be elusive, this chapter seeks to identify a concrete agenda for action which demands changes in laws and market arrangements and a leadership role for membership-based organizations. The recent report of the UN Commission on Legal Empowerment of the Poor (CLEP, 2008) provides an excellent working agenda as a basis for these discussions. This agenda seeks to use the law as the instrument of empowering the poor, but provides a broad enough canvas for a comprehensive examination of the roles of CSOs in transforming power relations, covering as it does transformations in the domains of property rights, labour rights, business rights, access to justice and the fostering of a climate of the rule of law. These domains cover all aspects of the livelihoods of the poor, as will be described below. In addition it provides a welcome departure from welfare and trickle-down approaches to poverty eradication. One of the greatest impediments to successful CSO action in challenging power relations is agreement on a concrete agenda for action. As such, this agenda – the result of widespread global and national consultations involving CSOs and states – will be taken as the basis for discussion on the roles of CSOs in transforming power relations.

Related Subject(s): Democracy and Governance
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