Hivos International

Democratic Change


The Hivos Rights and Citizenship programme invests 16 million euros annually in programmes and partners that promote democratic change. We support innovative initiatives that enable citizens to track and expose the electoral fairness, public service delivery and expenditures of their governments. We provide our partners with funds, technical support and advice to make governance systems more accountable and responsive to the needs and rights of citizens. Read more.


Co-funded by: 



From constitutional reform in Southern Africa to political transitions in Guatemala and Syria, Hivos works with activists and organisations that are frontrunners of democratic change and social justice. In fragile societies, we distribute and manage funds of international donors who want to invest in civic-driven democratisation but lack the local expertise and network of Hivos. We do not believe in quick fixes, but choose to support a civil society that contributes to an open democratic society in the long run.

Our partners strive for free and fair elections, strengthen the role of women’s leadership in politics and empower minority groups to participate in political processes. In Kenya, the powerful advocacy work of Hivos partners influenced the design of the new Constitution. Their grass roots campaigns generated broad public support for its approval in the 2010 referendum.

In India, our partner Association for Democratic Reform (ADR) is a key player in a civil society network of over a thousand organisations working on electoral reform and political accountability. ADR has built an impressive track record by using lawsuits and the Right to Information Act to expose the fraudulent financial records of Indian politicians. Their work effectively prevented thousands of politicians with an unlawful past to run for office. ADR is making political processes in India more transparent and relevant in the lives of ordinary Indian citizens.

Together with academic institutions worldwide, the Hivos Knowledge Programme makes partners consider the evidence base underneath their work and hence explore innovative avenues for change. One such avenue is the potential of new technology: mobile phones and internet offer unprecedented opportunities for social innovation.

That is why Hivos brings together ICT-entrepreneurs, cyber-activists and pro-democracy movements in the Middle East to develop pioneering systems for election monitoring and the documentation of human rights violations. This led to the development of Uchaguzi, an online platform in East Africa that allows citizens to report the irregularities they observe during elections. After successful pilots in Zambia and India, ICT Election Watch has expanded to six countries in the region.


Rights and citizenship can only thrive in democratic systems of governance. Hivos believes that democracy is one of the preconditions for sustainable development. Healthy democracies enable citizens to compete for public office, choose their political leaders and hold them responsible for future promises and past actions. Functioning democratic institutions guarantee basic human rights for all citizens, free and fair elections, and the rule of law. 

Yet many developing countries are democracies in name only. Power remains in the hands of elites who hijack political and economic systems by means of manipulation, intimidation and violence. When courts are biased and when rights are not enshrined in law, a culture of corruption and impunity is likely to prevail. Citizens who are not able to stand up and defend their rights remain stuck with unaccountable public institutions that do not deliver to the people. 

Democratic deficits do not necessarily hamper economic growth, but ultimately, democracy is a prerequisite for inclusive and equitable development. Hivos believes that citizens hold the key for bringing about meaningful democratic reform in their own society. That is why for over forty years we have supported citizen-driven initiatives for democratic change in more than thirty countries in the global South.


Facts & Figures

Countries: 19
Budget: € 16 million annually
People reached: 1.7 million
Main Dutch/international partnerships:  Guatemala Platform, Impunity Watch, International Service for  Human Rights
Major donors: Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs (MFS), European Union, DFID

  • In 2012, Hivos-supported campaigns to inform the public about human rights violations reached. a total of 1.7 million people in 12 countries.
  • In Guatemala, Hivos partners succeeded in starting a formal lawsuit against ex-president Ríos Montt for genocide committed against Mayan villagers in the 1980s.
  • In Kenya, Hivos’ partner International Centre for Policy and Conflict (ICPC) actively monitors the progress of the 2007/2008 post-election violence cases at the International Criminal Court in The Hague. It increases public awareness about these cases by making the video recordings of the ICC sessions available in remote rural towns in Kenya.
  • During the 2011 Ugandan elections, Hivos supported Uganda Election Watch, an innovative web-based platform that combined crowd sourcing with NGO monitoring. This increased the transparency of the election process by collecting monitoring reports that ordinary citizens, even in remote areas, had send via texting, twitter and internet. More than 5000 verified citizen reports were uploaded and the data have been used by official election monitoring missions.
  • In 2012, Impunity Watch organised in collaboration with Hivos an international Memory Initiatives Forum. Civil society representatives from genocide victim’s organisations and researchers from 5 countries (Cambodia, Guatemala, South Africa, Burundi and Bosnia-Herzegovina) exchanged knowledge and developed policy recommendations for more effective transitional justice processes and to define the role of memorialisation. The importance of civic-driven, bottom-up initiatives from survivor’s organisations was particularly highlighted. Also, using Hivos’ ECOSOC status at the UN, Impunity Watch, Hivos and several other international NGOs hosted a successful side event with victim groups from Guatemala and Burundi, during the first presentation to the newly appointed Special Rapporteur for Transitional Justice, Pablo de Greiff.
  • Hivos’ Indian partner Association for Democratic Reforms (ADR) contributes to increased transparency in Indian politics by making information on politicians available and accessible to the public. In 2012, the database was expanded to 70,000 elected representatives and candidates, and was released through media reports, an SMS campaign and free services lines.  
  • In Iraq, partners focused on promoting freedom of expression and they also contributed to improving the environment for civic action, in particular through their efforts to introduce a better NGO Law.
Interview with Hanaa Edwar

By Klaartje Laan

Hanaa Edwar, general secretary of Iraqi Al Amal Association and head of the Iraqi Women Network, is the driving force behind the fight for Iraqi women. The activist was in The Hague visiting the Hivos head office in the last week of May 2013. She spoke to us about how her organisation Al Amal works to improve the position of women in the region.

Active at different levels

"We are working hard at different levels to support Iraqi women," she says.  "We help draft legislation, we try to get influential judges and parliamentarians on our side, but we’re also present in neighbourhoods through our Family Support Centres, and we visit schools, families and engage with clan leaders."

Laws against domestic violence

In recent years, Al Amal has worked hard on preparing a draft law against domestic violence. The government asked the organisation to be put together a team of representatives from various ministries and experts in human rights law to write a bill on domestic violence. "We tried to gather information from as many sources as possible,” Edwar said. “Delegations visited Jordan, Kurdistan and other areas in the MENA region to look at their laws and implementation. In Iraq, we exchanged views with civil society, political parties and judges who have extensive experience in the field of domestic violence. All of these conferences and meetings produced very useful proposals. In 2012 our bill was ready, and it was a good one if I say so myself."

Al Amal’s draft law is now being checked for compliance with the Constitution. However, Al Amal is afraid that it may be modified in such a way that the organisations who wrote the bill will no longer stand behind it. "We are now trying to exert pressure to ensure that we, the people who drafted the bill, can have a say in the final version. I hope it will be debated this year in parliament, but it has been a long and arduous process, almost discouraging at times."

No change without the community

Equally important is the change in mentality that Al Amal is trying to bring about. According to Edwar, citizens need more information, knowledge and better training. If a judge is dealing with a case of domestic violence, he or she must know that violence can also be mental or verbal. Citizens need to know what their rights are in order to demand they are upheld. "It seems like Iraqi society has once again become more tribal, with a clan head as the undisputed leader of a community,” she noted. "Al Amal is deliberately trying to enter into dialogue with local communities and their leaders so we can give training sessions, for example. We are having some measure of success, but the process is slow. Only when our trainers have won people’s trust is there room for discussion."

Together for progress

But Edwar does believe that Al Amal has won the trust of the people: “They knock on the doors of the Family Support Centre for information on marriage and family life or to seek legal guidance. The government also allows these centres to run programmes for widows, and the centres provide a safe place where divorced parents can see their children. So they’re at the heart of society – all of society. After all, women’s issues go beyond women – the entire society should be working towards greater equality”.

Space for young people

Edwar admits she needs much more time and human resources. "We need to make room for young people not only inside Al Amal, but also in our society, and train them well. They are the future teachers, judges, police officers and politicians of Iraq."

Hivos and Al Amal

Hivos has been working with Al Amal in the field of human rights, but also specifically in the area of ​​women's rights. Women in the Middle East are fighting for their rights in many ways. Often risking their lives, they are committed to bringing injustice and violence to the public’s attention.  Their agenda is difficult to achieve and faces many obstacles, often running directly counter to traditional beliefs and conservative values. But they can always rely on the training, expertise, and financial and moral support of Hivos.


See also 'Iraqi Women Seek a New Liberation', an interview with Hanaa Edwar by Karlos Zurutuza of IPS, and a short biography of Ms Edwar on Women, Peace and Security website.