Defense of civic space
Civic space includes the fundamental freedoms of expression, peaceful assembly and association, protection of privacy as well as the rights of inclusive participation that ensure women, youth, linguistic/ethnic minorities, people with disabilities and underrepresented groups a full involvement in political, economic and social life.
The promotion and protection of civic space by governments is a prerequisite for building truly inclusive societies in which all individuals can freely develop their personalities and actively participate in public decision-making processes.
An open civic space strengthens democracy and ensures inclusiveness, while at the same time acting as a key factor for development: countries with higher levels of respect for civil rights report, among other things, higher rates of economic growth and higher levels of human capital development.
Member States participating in the Open Government Partnership initiative are called upon to make transformative commitments to defend and strengthen civic space, actively intervening with targeted actions to defend rights and freedoms while ensuring, in case of violations, effective systems of protection and restoration of rights. This policy, which must be continuous and ongoing, takes on particular relevance in exceptional circumstances, as demonstrated by the Covid-19 pandemic emergency.
Although the OGP Global Report states that countries in the Partnership have seen a smaller decline in the erosion of civic space than non-member countries, the latter are also no exception to this trend.
The 2021 Italian-chaired G20 reaffirmed its commitment to adopt all available means necessary to address the negative effects of the Covid-19 pandemic, which have exacerbated economic and social inequalities.
The national context between quality of democracy and NRRP
In Italy, the measures adopted by the government during the pandemic period have opened a wide debate regarding the exercise of fundamental rights and freedoms, although guaranteed by a wide and well-established constitutional and regulatory framework. The debate concerned, in particular, the interventions to be put in place to overcome the negative effects on the economic, social, educational, etc. system produced by the pandemic. Especially during the first phase of the emergency, the most vulnerable categories were particularly affected. Consider, for example, that the rate of participation of women in employment in Italy is only 53.8%, well below the 67.3% of the European average. Furthermore, Italy is the EU country with the highest percentage of young people between 15 and 29 years of age not engaged in study, work or training (NEET). These problems are even more pronounced in the South of Italy.
In the context outlined above, over time, numerous initiatives have been promoted in our country aimed at adopting specific measures to overcome gender inequality and support the new generations: acknowledgement of equal rights and greater protection for working women; reconciliation of life and work times; support for parenthood; incentives for the creation and development of businesses with predominantly or totally female participation; etc.
As regards young people, again in recent years, actions have been promoted in favour of young talent and fighting youth discomfort. National political priorities outlined by the Government include social integration, participation, support for autonomy of young people, non-formal education, prevention and measures against new addictions.
The centrality of issues relating to overcoming gender inequality and youth inclusion is reaffirmed in the NRRP: social inclusion is placed as a strategic axis of the NRRP, alongside digitalization and ecological transition, with the primary objective of creating development and reducing inequalities.
The Government dedicates a specific Mission in the NRRP related to inclusion (Mission 5 – Inclusion and Cohesion), which plays a central role in the pursuit of the objectives, across the whole Plan, by supporting female empowerment and fighting gender discrimination, increasing employment prospects for young people, territorial rebalancing and development of Southern Italy and internal areas.
Defense of Civic Space in National Action Plans for the open government
The commitments of the Italian Government to the protection of civic space, with specific reference to the dimensions of gender equality and youth inclusion, have led to the realization of some important results within the 3rd National Action Plan. In order to raise the level of accountability and participation with respect to the implementation of “Buona Scuola”, the reform of the education system introduced by Law 107/2015, with particular reference to families and students, has launched a platform for monitoring school-to-work paths, an application dedicated to the “Buona Scuola Digitale”, an application for school construction, and an Observatory for the digital school.
In addition, the project “A Scuola di OpenCoesione” (ASOC) – an innovative educational programme aimed at promoting and developing in Italian schools principles of active and aware citizenship, through research activities and civic monitoring of European and national public funding – has extended participation to about 200 classes of secondary schools from all over the country, with over 4,000 students, together with 360 teachers, and the active collaboration of 26 Europe Direct Information Centers and 61 territorial associations, significantly increasing the ASOC community. In order to encourage the constant updating of the civic monitoring carried out by students, the ASOC EXPERIENCE series was launched, which collects new videos made by schools that took part in previous editions of the ASOC project, in which students tell, after one year, the evolution of their research.
Subsequently, as part of the 4th National Action Plan, Directive n. 2 of 2019 on equal opportunities and strengthening of the Comitati Unici di Garanzia (CUG) in public administrations was drafted. In the context of citizenship rights and the development of digital skills of young people, the Portale Giovani 2030 was launched and tested; training activities for citizenship were launched at the local level, in collaboration with public and private entities, also with specific actions on gender objectives, detecting information and data related to women’s participation in the proposed initiatives and taking into account the problems of foreign women.
The theme of defending civic space has been central in the process of co-construction of the 5th National Action Plan, through which civic space has been declined in two dimensions of intervention: gender equality in the public and private sectors and strengthening the relationship between young people and participation. In order to be effective, structural and in line with the objectives of the European pillar of social rights, Italy’s recovery must give equal opportunities to all citizens, especially those who do not fully express their potential today.