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Democracy, human rights and freedom of expression

Democracy in the world is in decline, limiting both people’s influence over political decisions and their power over their own lives. This is why democracy, human rights and gender equality are the areas on which Sida focuses the most. The work contributes to greater freedom and openness for people living in countries in which democracy and human rights are restricted.

Progress has been made

People’s protest are vital

Popular protests against dictatorship and injustice have diminished as a result of the pandemic. That doesn’t make them any less important. In Sudan, civil society is trying to influence decision-makers to complete the transition from dictatorship to democracy and civilian rule.

Cautious democratic progress

Democratic space is shrinking globally. But some countries have taken small steps towards democratic development. In Zambia, a peaceful and democratic presidential election has improved the conditions for democratic development.

Challenges remain

15 years

in a row, the development of human rights has gone backwards in more countries than those in which it has gone forwards.

Democracy continuing to decline

Not since 1990 has the level of democracy in the world been as low as it is now, and it is continuing to decline as a result of the pandemic. More countries than in 30 years are ruled by authoritarian leaders who have consolidated their power and are restricting people’s rights. Elections were postponed in more than 70 countries in 2020, and the internet was shut down in many places, making it more difficult to disseminate and access information and opinions.

Women’s rights ignored

2.5 billion girls and women worldwide are affected by discriminatory laws. They have worse access to legal protection than men and boys. Girls and women may find it more difficult to get a passport, to inherit or to decide whether and whom to marry.

Sida's work with democracy, human rights and freedom of expression

Democracy is key in the fight against poverty. Poverty is not just about a lack of food, water and shelter. It is also about lacking influence over political decisions and power over your own life.

Human rights apply to all people in the world. They are based on the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, which UN member states signed 70 years ago, undertaking to respect and protect people’s rights.

Human rights, democracy and the principles of the rule of law are Sida’s main priority areas, accounting for more than a quarter of its aid.

Democratic change must always proceed from the will of the people themselves in the society that is changing. Support for democracy requires close cooperation with local organisations. The people who live and work in the country or region always have the best knowledge and most important experience.

The Universal Declaration of Human Rights on the UN website

Democratic development and citizen influence

Every year since 2006, more countries have gone backwards in their democratic development, compared to the number of countries that have become more democratic. The Covid-19 pandemic has further exacerbated the situation. In many countries, citizens have little or no opportunity to influence political decisions. Women, young people and minority groups are frequently under-represented in politics.

Women's political influence and leadership

Only one quarter of the world’s parliamentarians are women, according to the Inter-Parliamentary Union.  Among other initiatives, Sida supports UN Women, Kvinna till Kvinna and other women’s rights organisations working to strengthen female political influence and leadership; for example, by training female politicians and exerting influence over governments to work towards gender equality.

UN Women web page

Strengthened political participation

Strengtehened political participation

Political parties can play a crucial role in development. They can turn ideas into political priorities, come up with criticism and present alternatives. As democracy declines in the world, however, the space for politicians in opposition to make themselves heard is shrinking. They are often affected by discrimination, harassment and violence. Lack of democracy also makes it difficult to hold those responsible to account. In collaboration with party-affiliated organizations, Sida, among other things, works to strengthen political influence of young people and women and to promote exchange of experiences between political parties.

Strengthening young people's voices in 16 African countries

Young people and women are severely under-represented among politicians in many of Sida’s partner countries. One of several programs that Sida supports is the Program for Young Politicians in Africa (PYPA), a non-partisan, regional leadership program. The program develops young politicians into change actors who can lead, plan, develop policies and identify concerns, even in their home municipalities. Young people who have participated over the years have been voted in as members of their parties’ boards, given other important party assignments or even been elected to parliament or mayors. The majority of participants have become more politically involved and have gained more influence in both their youth councils and mother parties, especially as regards gender equality, human rights and increased democracy.

Four Swedish party-affiliated organizations collaborate with local organizations in 16 countries within PYPA. The Christian Democratic International Center coordinates the program. The others included are the Center Party’s International Foundation (CIS), the Green Forum and Olof Palme International Center (OPC).

KIC Sweden

Increasing women’s political influence and leadership

Only a quarter of the world’s parliamentarians are women. Sida supports UN Women, Kvinna till kvinna and other women’s rights organisations working to strengthen women’s political influence and leadership. For example, they train female politicians and put pressure on national governments to work for gender equality.

Court for gender-based violence

Gender-based violence is the most prevalent crime in Liberia and the majority of victims are women and children. Through organisations such as Kvinna till Kvinna, UN Women, Unicef and Action Aid, Sida supports efforts to prevent and address gender-based violence and improve the situation of LGBTQI+ people. These include a special court for gender-based violence (Court E) and support centres around the country where victims can meet police investigators and receive medical and psychosocial care.

About the work in Liberia on the Kvinna till Kvinna website

Well-functioning social institutions and anti-corruption

In many of Sida’s partner countries, the state lacks the capacity to enforce laws and provide citizens with the services to which they are entitled. The risk of corruption increases when public institutions in areas such as the judiciary, healthcare and education are weak.

Swedish authorities supporting actors in other countries

Countries that do not collect enough tax find it difficult to run a functioning welfare system. Several Swedish authorities work with actors in Sida’s partner countries, for example to strengthen tax systems, national audit offices and climate and environmental authorities. Examples include support for the national audit offices in Zambia and Mozambique and tax reform in Bosnia and Herzegovina.

More corruption cases being reported in Southeast Asia

For poverty to be reduced and people’s rights respected, corruption needs to be fought. In several countries in Southeast Asia, public confidence in anti-corruption authorities has increased. This is being achieved by providing various actors, including corruption investigators, with services such as workshops, advice and field-based mentoring programmes. The initiatives have increased public confidence in anti-corruption authorities and many more corruption cases are being reported in the region.

A strong civil society

Civil society, i.e. people and organisations outside the public authorities, has found it more difficult to carry out its work in many places, in particular those working for gender equality and the rights of LGBTQI+ people, and for environmental and land rights. Defenders of human rights are under surveillance and subjected to threats and violence.

Direct support for civil society organisations

Civil society organisations are restricted in how they can operate in more than half of countries worldwide. This may involve threats, pressure and restrictive laws. Sida works to strengthen civil society organisations and to enable a viable civil society in many countries.

Protection of human rights defenders

Threats to defenders of environmental and land rights are increasing. Indigenous peoples and women are particularly vulnerable. Sida supports the Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR), which strengthens the protection of human rights defenders in many countries, including Guatemala and Cambodia.

Office of the UN High Commissioner for Human Rights’ website

Freedom of expression and independent media

Freedom of expression has declined in all regions of the world since the mid-2000s. Freedom on the internet is diminishing as political leaders monitor people’s communications. Authoritarian regimes are tightening their grip on the media and the number of countries in which it is safe for journalists to work is decreasing. The Covid-19 pandemic lockdowns have further exacerbated the situation.

Safety for journalists

Afghanistan and Syria are two of the most dangerous countries in the world for journalists. In Afghanistan, Sida supports International Media Support (IMS), the work of which includes combating threats and violence against journalists and offering emergency assistance. In Syria, IMS and Free Press Unlimited are working to increase the safety of journalists and develop more independent media.

Against discrimination and for the rights of the child

Certain groups in society are particularly vulnerable to human rights violations, including children and minority groups. More than half of the people living in extreme poverty in the world are children. Many minority groups, such as ethnic or religious groups and LGBTQI+ people, face discrimination, persecution and violence.

Fewer child marriages

Every year, 12 million girls are married off before the age of 18. In Bangladesh, Plan International, with support from Sida, is working to reduce the number of child marriages, for example by organising youth groups and involving fathers in gender equality work.

About the work in Bangladesh on the Plan International website

Respect for the rights of LGBTQI+ people

In around 70 countries around the world, same-sex sex is illegal. LGBTQI+ people all over the world are subjected to physical and psychological violence, discrimination and gross violations. In Eastern Europe, RFSL works with local civil society organisations to increase respect for the rights of LGBTQI+ people, reinforce anti-discrimination legislation and support victims of violence.

RFSL’s website

Scope and governance of Sida’s work with democracy, human rights and freedom of expression

During 2019, Sida paid out SEK 7 billion to support initiatives in the field of democracy, human rights and the principle of the rule of law. This equates to just over 25% of Sida’s total investment.

Updated: December 30, 2021