The UN Charter recognizes national governments as the primary stakeholders for cooperation and the main contributors to a more peaceful world. The UN’s twin resolutions on Sustaining peace – Security Council Resolution 2282 and General Assembly Resolution 70/262 – also make reference to the importance of good governance. However, neither the Charter nor the twin resolutions say much about the role of good local governance and citizen participation.

The case for citizen participation in local governance

I believe there is good reason for practitioners across the UN to make good local governance – and in effect citizen participation – an important part of their work in building more peaceful societies. Here is why: 

  1. Global conflicts have an impact on local contexts: Irrespective of the global nature of underlying factors, and the dynamics surrounding conflict or violence, global conflicts affect the livelihoods of people in local communities. Solutions to these conflicts need to be based, therefore, on the perspectives of those affected. Local governance, as the closest level of governance to the people, offers a space for discussion, and is well suited to gather these perspectives and encourage citizen participation. In improving their efforts for sustaining peace, it is important that practitioners focus on mechanisms that ensure strong participation from citizens in local governance.
  2. Citizens have a role to play in the management of resources: Grievances around access to resources are among the primary contributors to  violent conflict. A fair, effective and efficient allocation of resources is therefore an important entry point for sustainable peace. However, the allocation of resources is not necessarily improved or guaranteed by putting the decision-making power in the hands of local governments. Just as in the case of national or regional actors, local government representatives might respond to the interests of local elites or other interest groups. Therefore, mechanisms that consider  citizen participation in the allocation of resources need to be promoted. Examples of this include participatory budgeting, which was  first developed in Brazil, and has proven to be key  in  ensuring the equitable allocation of resources. Community-based monitoring and evaluation is another powerful mechanism for ensuring that  projects are implemented in a timely and efficient manner, leading to expected results. The use of citizen report cards in the Ugandan health sector demonstrates the benefits of involving communities in the monitoring and evaluation of  projects designed to serve them.
  3. Inclusive citizen participation can help amplify the voices of the marginalized: A second important source of conflict and a general challenge to sustainable development is the exclusion of social groups based on a number of characteristics including gender, ethnicity, economic status, age, and disability. Having an intersectional perspective when employing mechanisms of citizen participation is important as it strengthens the voices of the marginalized, and leads to a better identification and understanding of their needs.  Women’s safety audits (WSA) are great examples of this in practice. The tool for inclusive urban planning is used throughout India, and has proven to be  powerful in improving the security of marginalized women in the country’s cities.

It is evident that the UN system can only live up to the challenging paradigm of sustaining peace if it manages to systematically work on solutions to conflict and violence where they are needed, and with those who need them – the people that make up  communities around the globe.

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