What does it mean to have a vibrant civil society? For us at Arseh Sevom it means giving voice to women, minorities, people on the margins of society. It’s about organizing your neighbors to get a stop sign placed on a dangerous corner, selling cookies to support a local school. It’s about advocating for the rights of prisoners, pushing for better labor conditions, getting children out of the labor market and into the schools. When citizens participate in the public life of their communities, they help to reign in the excesses of unchecked power. In so doing, even the marginalized gain a place at the table.
It can be easy to become despondent and pessimistic when focusing on civil society in Iran, especially in the light of the high number of reported abuses against human rights. Over the past year, the UN Special Rapporteur for Human Rights in Iran released two reports. Those reports documented a shocking disregard from the Islamic Republic of Iran for the basic human rights of its citizens.
They also showed something more positive. They showed the great spirit of people who continue to struggle for their rights and the rights of others despite the odds. And despite everything, individuals and organizations in Iran manage to do important work. They might not all make political or human rights demands, but they do contribute given their limitations. Other organizations and civil society actors have been attacked. Their licenses to operate have been revoked or denied. Their members imprisoned, tortured, and harassed.
These efforts, however quiet, represent a society asserting itself and struggling to break free of the oppressive government rule of the past. The only way to bring the government of Iran more in line with its people is to push for more freedom in the civil sphere and to support the efforts of civil society to improve its democratic communication, its openness, and its efforts to give voice to those on the margins.
Although Arseh Sevom faced several challenges over the course of 2011, we remain dedicated to our mission to promote vibrant civil society in Iran and related communities. With the help of our partners and network, we look forward to a 2012 filled with exciting projects such as training in communications and message development, a report on the effects of economic penalties and sanctions on civil society in Iran, and the start of a project to synthesize lessons learned from civil society actors all over the world (Civil Society Cookbook).
We look forward to more engagement with our readers and our audience and welcome comments.
President of the Board