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Christian Aid’s vision, as set out in our Global Strategy, is ‘a world where everyone has fullness of life; a life lived with dignity, free from poverty and need; where global resources are equitably shared and sustainably used; and where the voice and agency of the poor and marginalised are fully realised.’

We can’t create this wonderful world without challenging deeply rooted power structures which sustain inequality, oppression and the depletion and destruction of our planet’s resources.

Our work seeks to help create spaces for fairer alternatives to flourish. Spaces in which communities are agents of long-lasting change. Where they’re able to build new relationships, among themselves and with those whose decisions and actions affect their lives.

Exploring important questions

In looking at ways of structuring these new relationships, re-imagining social contracts could offer a powerful tool. Could the centuries-old social contract concept be transformed into a new version that is feminist and anti-racist? One that shifts power to those along the margins and acts as a conduit for reparations of previous injustice?

In 2022 we commissioned a series of 12 essays by experts and activists around the world to explore what feminist, eco-social and anti-racist approaches to social contracts should look like.

Some authors drew from real-life examples of ways in which communities have found viable alternatives for organising, rebuilding and re-connecting with people and planet. Others re-emphasised just how broken our current forms of organising economies and societies are, and the detrimental impact this has on women, often made worse by many different and intersecting factors of discrimination such as race, ethnicity, caste, age, disability or geographical location.

Many authors concluded that a new, feminist social contract must be underpinned by a commitment to upholding human rights. This is essential to lay the foundations for a rights-based economy to emerge – an economy that ceases to rely on exploiting the poorest and most marginalised within and across countries. Otherwise, the root causes of inequality and injustice will never be addressed.

Creating vital space

A new, feminist social contract, as envisaged by these authors, would have to give space for communities to rise and clearly shape a future grounded in equality, dignity and respect for each other and the planet.

Christian Aid’s longstanding work on governance and rights aligns with this view, even more so given that a growing number of the partners and communities we work with operate in fragile contexts, where the state and its obligations to citizens are increasingly absent.

Worryingly, many of the countries where we work have, over the last few years, made it very difficult for citizens, organisations and movements to raise their voices against injustices. The Covid 19 pandemic gave many states the ability to crack down on citizen participation, further limit freedom of speech and assembly and increase government surveillance.

Communities need to have voice and agency to shape a better and more just future. We’re committed to helping them succeed – for example, by facilitating and supporting spaces where important conversations with critical stakeholders can begin, and be sustained.

Embracing change

Yet the role of international NGOs (INGOs) like Christian Aid is changing too, partly as a result of an increased emphasis on the need to embed anti-racism and decolonisation behaviours and practices across the world and the international development sector – rightly so! This has led us to commit to several important initiatives.

One is Pledge for Change which seeks to “build a stronger aid ecosystem based on the principles of solidarity, humility, self-determination, and equality”.

Another is The Core Humanitarian Standard , through which we’re continuously striving to improve our performance and accountability towards the people and communities we support.

We’re also committed to the Inclusive Data Charter, an initiative that’s helping us to improve how we gather and use the evidence on which we base our work.

Following our recent mid-term strategy review, we’re increasingly recognising locally led solutions to local problems, and have committed to continuing and increasing our investment in community capacity and community-led responses.

Local leadership

It’s our partners who lead, working directly with communities and stakeholders to lay the foundations for anti-racist and feminist social contracts to flourish and thrive. This is happening both through community development programmes that build social capital and – critically – through advocacy work at local, national, regional and global level. 

And across Christian Aid, our development, humanitarian and advocacy programmes are supporting communities to build their capabilities to face particular problems through locally led initiatives and approaches.

For instance, in times of humanitarian crisis our flagship survivor and community led response (sclr) approach encourages affected communities to define and address their own priority needs. This is done, for example, through small grants to grassroots and community groups channelled through local partners, who can support them in designing and delivering the response, recovery and resilience interventions that local people need.

Our climate adaptation and resilience programmes are also heping build communities’ capacity to prepare, respond to and recover from climate shocks, to develop sustainable livelihoods to thrive in the short, medium and long term and to restore loss and damage.

From local to global

In line with our mission to tackle the root causes of poverty and injustice through systemic change, our climate work also seeks to influence national and global policy – for instance, towards more gender responsive measures for adaptation and resilience in national development plans, and towards the establishment of a global loss and damage fund.  Supporting partners at community, national, regional and global levels to raise their voices and directly influence policy is critical to achieve this mission in a feminist way.

We’re mobilising partners in a similar way, in our work to support economic justice. Together, we’re calling for fair global financial decision making to enable vulnerable countries to finance sustainable and equitable development. And in the face of multinational companies’ increasing power and influence, we’re calling for strong measures to hold business to account for protection of human rights and the environment. 

Transformation must be with and for everyone

In line with our 3Ps framework (poverty, power and prophetic voice) – by which we commit to ‘eradicating extreme poverty, dismantling its root causes across the world, and enabling the voice and agency of the poor and marginalised to be fully realised’ – our programmes seek to be transformative and inclusive.

This means ensuring that everyone, regardless of gender, sexual identity or expression, age, race, caste, ethnicity, social status, disability, religion, political affiliation or any other dimension of vulnerability is treated equitably and given fair and free opportunity to participate and have influence in activities, decisions and structures which affect their life.

This approach is critical if Christian Aid is to help sow the seeds of feminist, anti-racist, eco-social contracts. So is ensuring that we stand true to our Gender Justice strategy’s recognition that women and girls, and other marginalised communities, face many different and intersecting forms of discrimination.

In India, some of our partners have worked with Dalit and Indigenous women on developing their leadership to challenge caste and gender-based discriminations. In El Salvador, transgender people have been supported by our partners in their legal battle to change their gender identities. In Honduras, women leaders have claimed their active citizenship rights by conducting social audits and demanding gender responsive service delivery in their country.

We want to do everything we can

For the remainder of our current global strategy, we’re committed to embedding gender justice at the heart of all our work within our four thematic priorities: climate adaptation and resilience, governance and rights, peacebuilding and conflict prevention, and gender justice.

We’re also committed to developing an organisational approach and understanding of feminist analyses and practices, ensuring we can play the best role we possibly can in supporting long term, transformational change.

This approach will be an important foundation for our existing and future work on women’s economic justice, which seeks to support marginalised women to realise their economic rights by creating changes in their lives, households and communities as well as challenging systemic barriers and gender norms. Unless women’s unpaid care burden is recognised, reduced and redistributed through, among other things, the creation of a rights-based economy that works for all women and is led by feminist principles, a new social contract will not succeed.

Continuing our journey

In our quest to contribute to this type of change, we’ll continue to explore, experiment, learn from others and work with them to amplify innovative ideas for change. The essay series has given us plenty of food for thought. It’s particularly important to us at Christian Aid to continue reviewing and improving our internal systems, processes and approaches to ensure we can play the best possible role in co-creating a more anti-racist and decolonial development and humanitarian sector that puts the communities we work with and for in the driving seat.

This means, for example, adopting decolonial approaches to research, learning and storytelling. These are central to highlighting the problems with the systems that shape and drive the world we live in as experienced by vulnerable and marginalised communities – and to proposing solutions or alternatives that work for these communities.

We have internal projects and initiatives in place to help us achieve this, including a set of principles and frameworks for our staff to play the best role possible in effecting transformative change through our work, while also recognising that our organisation and the contexts we operate within are very diverse.

We look forward to continuing the conversation with those who have been part of the feminist social contract project so far and with partners, allies and others who are committed to laying foundations for long-term change.

Dr Lila Caballero Sosa

Head of Programme Policy, Research and Learning at Christian Aid