KIOS’ 10-year Anniversary Seminar Discussed Democracy on Grassroots’ Level

Renu Rajbhandari, WOREC.

Democracy cannot be dictated from the outside. It is a long process that needs to originate from the grassroots. This was stated in the 10-year anniversary seminar hosted by KIOS on 21st to 22nd October 2008. The guest speakers at the seminar were representatives of human rights organizations and democracy organizations functioning at grassroots level in Asia and Africa. The event was attended by 100 listeners and speakers, including representatives of civil society organizations both from developing countries and from Finland.

Women as actors

Experiences of improving women’s rights in the North and in the South were shared in the seminar. Peace T. Kyamureku  from the National Association of Women’s Organisations NAWOU shared her experiences on women’s participation in drafting the new legislation of Uganda in the beginning of 1990s.

“Before women considered the constitution to be something that only applies to lawyers, and not themselves. Now they were active in creating a constitution, which takes women’s rights into account”, Kyamureku told.

Renu Rajbhandari from Women’s Rehabilitation Center WOREC reminded the listeners of the risks faced by grassroots-level actors. Rajbhandari is the director of Women Human Rights Defenders network in Nepal.

“For years we have empowered women at grassroots-level to demand for their rights. Now that they have started to talk and protect their rights, they are subjected to threats and violence”, Rajbhandari told.

Food or rights to the poor?

Many speakers discussed also the relationship in between development and human rights.

“A real democracy requires, in addition to civil and political rights, the implementation of economic, social and cultural rights”, stated the head of Unit for Human Rights Sofie From-Emmesberger from the Ministry for Foreign Affairs of Finland.

George Kogolla from Youth Alive! Kenya youth organizations noted that pursuing change is difficult in a situation where the voters living in poverty are more interested in the bribes of the politicians than in achieving long-term change.

“The people living in poverty ask us what they need rights for if they don’t have food?”, stated Kogolla.

As for James Odindo Opiata from the Kenyan organization Economic and Social Rights Centre Hakijamii, he stressed that people have fought for their human rights long before they even knew the term existed.

“Many of these battles are fought in despite of the international instruments, not because of them”, he emphasized.

The voice of grassroots needs to be heard

Odindo Opiata. Photo: KIOS

Odindo Opiata. Photo: KIOS

Opiata criticized the fact that the Western countries have, in the name of democracy, demanded that the developing countries move towards a multiparty political system without taking into account the power relations hiding under it. Multiparty political system has not increased participation in Kenya. Instead many parties have remained the playground of the same political elite. He also reminded that there is always risk of a kind of democracy by substitution when discussing grassroots democracy.

“I should not be talking here either, since I’m not a part of the real grassroots”, he stated.

Most of the seminar’s foreign guests were representing KIOS’ supported organizations in Kenya, Uganda, Nepal and Thailand. They will be staying in Helsinki until 27th October, which provides them with the opportunity to follow the practical realization of local elections of Helsinki together with Namibian town councilors invited by the city of Vantaa. Adelegation of youth and students, which is getting to know Finnish democracy as a guest to Demo Finland participated in the seminar as well.


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