Post submitted by Hannah Monson, HRC Global Engagement Intern

“We clearly state and recommend that the agenda must be our agenda,” said Kenyan activist Lorna Dias. “We are the ones on the ground. We understand the context. We live the problem. We know the solutions.”

Agency was a key theme of Wednesday’s civil society conference, “Towards an Action Program for Democracy.” Alongside the U.S.-Africa Leaders Summit, the National Endowment for Democracy sponsored the August 6 event. The panel topics were human rights, good governance and accountability, elections, media, conflict and security, and civil society challenges.

Two of the panelists belonged to LGBTI rights organizations.

Mmapaseka Steve Letsike is an activist from South Africa. At the human rights panel, she stressed the importance of local organizations. “I want to really emphasize on building capacity of local initiatives to continue addressing the needs of marginalized populations and also initiatives that are led by community-based organizations for sustainability purposes,” she said. “I think it’s very key, if you were to address any empowerment in economic sustainability, it’s really to support the local-based initiative, but really to emphasize women and the LGBTI community.”

The Civil Society Challenges task force elected Lorna Dias spokesperson. She is a founding member of the Gay and Lesbian Coalition of Kenya. At the forum, she stressed inclusion. “Given what we know about African countries, our recommendations that are being made here are for all humans and not some humans,” she said. “Change is not something which can be instituted in a separate cluster of people. You need everyone at the table.” She emphasized the importance of community-based advocacy groups, and encouraged partnerships and funding to support local initiatives: “Engagement, whether national or local, needs to be based on the agenda set on the ground, not somewhere in an office somewhere far away or on a different continent, but in our own backyard.”

This conference helped inform the work of HRC as well as other U.S. partners by illuminating the most effective ways to help marginalized populations around the world.

Filed under: International, Community

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