Social Watch Groups Build Capacity in Monitoring and Accountability

Social Watch (SW), an international network of citizens devoted to eradication of poverty and an end to all forms of discrimination, has begun a three-year programme to improve the capacity of its members in developing countries through a series of workshops in Africa, Asia and Latin America.

The purpose is to help them acquire specialised skills and knowledge to ensure national governments uphold their commitments to peace, social, economic, environment and gender justice.

It is also to ensure effective monitoring and holding governments to ensure equitable distribution of wealth and the realization of human rights, as well as the right of all people to a life devoid of poverty.

Organisers believe effective monitoring is predicated on the strength and legitimacy of the groups with oversight responsibility. Therefore, SW outcomes should be valid and reliable and national groups should also have a credible constituency that can be mobilised at short notice to press home local demands.

About 30 SW coalition members from across Africa took part in the Accra capacity building workshop last week under the auspices of the Third World Network and NETRIGHT.

Speaking during the opening of the workshop, Dr. Akua Britwum, Convenor of the Network for Women's Rights in Ghana (NETRIGHT), noted that SW has a connection with national and international processes since the commitments that came out from the social summit were in themselves global.

She said the global South faces problems that emanate from poverty or the lack of basic needs for welfare and that as non-governmental organisation it is legitimate that they respect the various commitment they represent.

"The credibility and legitimacy of our work depend on our skills which need to be focused and sharpened to make reports and demands. We need to remind ourselves of the changing environment within which we live."

Other aims of the African regional capacity building workshops is to strengthen the capacity of Social Watch Coalitions in the African region to actively monitor the implementation of social policies by their own governments and to support the democratic governance of the network.

Specifically, the workshop seeks to equip members with tools and skills needed to monitor and hold governments and international organizations accountable to the implementation of commitments on gender equity and poverty reduction (including the MDGs); strengthen the capacity of national coalitions to campaign effectively for social policy change and increased social accountability of governments; and improve the quality of national reports produced on poverty, gender, and social development.

It also seeks to increase the membership of the Social Watch coalitions at the national level, leading to a higher mix of skills and expertise, and increased credibility and representativeness.

Dr. Yao Graham, Executive Director of TWN-Africa recalled that Social Watch was launched in 1995 with member countries numbering about 70 and over 1000 organisations.

According to him, a founding principle was that it was a dynamic civic engagement of citizens around the issues but not a consultancy, adding that character has been maintained.

"It promotes people-centred development in a sustainable manner. National coalitions are the base because ultimately policies made at the international level have to be implemented at the national level so national coalitions are the foundation of Social Watch."

Ms Martina Kabisama, a member of Social Watch Coordinating Committee, announced that the three main issues for African coalitions to look at include constitution, elections and information communication and technology.

"Though African Social Watch groups are not weak they are not up to standard as to where they should be."

It is expected that the workshop will enhance the capabilities of Social Watch Coalition members to raise public awareness on social development issues, contribute to shaping the national and international debates through the media.