Citizenship is a concept that originated in ancient Greece, where it referred to individuals who had the right to participate actively in the affairs of the state. However, citizenship at that time was limited to a select few, excluding groups such as slaves, women, the poor and resident foreigners. Over time, the concept of citizenship has evolved and today individuals can be citizens of one or more states, with certain rights and responsibilities. Being a citizen means not only having legal protection for one’s rights and interests, but also being part of a community with a shared moral code and identity.
There are four essential dimensions of citizenship that shape the relationship between the individual and society. The political dimension involves political rights and responsibilities within the political system, which requires knowledge of the system and the promotion of democratic attitudes and participatory skills. The social dimension involves the behaviour and interactions of individuals in society, requiring loyalty and solidarity as well as social skills and knowledge of social relations. The cultural dimension revolves around a shared cultural heritage, developed through knowledge of cultural heritage, history and basic skills such as language skills. The economic dimension concerns the relationship between individuals and the labour and consumer markets, and includes the right to work and a minimum standard of living, which requires economic skills and vocational training.
Being an active citizen gives us the opportunity and the responsibility to influence society and contribute to the well-being of our community. Active citizenship is based on three key concepts: pluralism, respect for human dignity and the rule of law. Pluralism recognises the diversity of perspectives and promotes inclusive participation. Respect for human dignity ensures that everyone’s rights and worth are upheld. The rule of law establishes a framework of laws and principles that govern society and protect individual rights.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights and the European Convention on Nationality protect individual rights related to citizenship. These include the right to a nationality, the right to change nationality, the right to participate in government and equal access to public service. Human rights and the full exercise of citizenship are closely intertwined, as restrictions on freedom of expression, education or economic opportunities can hinder democratic and active participation.
Participation in society can be seen as a ladder, as described by Sherry Arnstein. At the lowest levels, citizens can be manipulated or used for ulterior motives, while at the highest levels, citizens have full control and decision-making power. NGOs (non-governmental organisations) play a crucial role in active citizenship. They bridge the gap between politics and society, providing citizens with the necessary tools for responsible and sustainable empowerment and activism. NGOs also serve as sources of information and their influence has grown over the years, leading many institutions to open their doors to NGO scrutiny. The European Union recognises the important role of NGOs and civil society organisations in development cooperation and humanitarian aid and supports their involvement in policy-making, capacity building and dialogue.
In addition to the information provided, it’s important to note that citizen science is another way in which individuals can engage in active citizenship. Citizen science involves the involvement of non-professional scientists, such as volunteers from the general public, in scientific research projects. This collaboration between institutions and citizens allows for a broader and more inclusive approach to scientific research, benefiting both scientists and volunteers.
Overall, active citizenship is at the heart of European society and institutions. It is protected and promoted at all levels, with citizens and NGOs playing a key role in shaping policies, promoting democracy and defending human rights.
Citizenship: The concept of citizenship, which originated in ancient Greece, refers to individuals who have the right to participate actively in the affairs of the state. Citizenship entails specific rights and duties towards the state of which one is a member.
Political dimension: The aspect of citizenship that involves political rights and responsibilities within the political system, such as knowledge of the system, democratic attitudes and participatory skills.
Social dimension: The aspect of citizenship that involves behaviour and interactions between individuals in society, including loyalty, solidarity, social skills and knowledge of social relations.
Cultural dimension: The dimension of citizenship that revolves around a shared cultural heritage, developed through knowledge of cultural heritage, history and basic skills such as language skills.
Economic dimension: The dimension of citizenship that concerns the relationship between individuals and the labour and consumer markets, including the right to work, a minimum standard of living and the need for economic skills and vocational training.
Active citizenship: The concept of active participation in society and taking responsibility for influencing social issues and the well-being of the community. It is based on pluralism, respect for human dignity and the rule of law.
Pluralism: Recognising and accepting the diversity of perspectives and promoting inclusive participation in society.
Rule of law: The principle that establishes a framework of laws and principles that govern society and protect individual rights.
NGOs (Non-Governmental Organisations): Organisations that operate independently of government and work towards specific social or environmental goals, often playing a crucial role in promoting active citizenship.
Citizen science: A form of active citizenship in which non-professional scientists, such as volunteers from the general public, participate in scientific research projects and contribute to scientific knowledge and discovery.
Development cooperation: Collaborative efforts between countries and organisations to promote sustainable development, often involving active citizenship and engagement with local communities.
Humanitarian aid: Assistance provided to people in need as a result of natural disasters, conflicts or other emergencies, often with the active involvement of citizens and NGOs.
Advocacy: The act of actively supporting a cause or promoting a particular point of view in order to bring about social or political change. Advocacy involves raising awareness, influencing decision-makers and mobilising support for a particular issue.
Lobbying: The process of influencing government officials and policy makers to shape policies, legislation or decisions in favour of a particular cause or interest group. Lobbying can involve providing information, making arguments and building relationships with key stakeholders.
Grassroots activism: Activism that originates at the local level, driven by individuals or small groups within communities. Grassroots activism often focuses on specific local issues and aims to mobilise collective action and bring about change from the ground up.
Civil society: The collective sphere of organisations, groups and individuals outside government and the for-profit sector who come together to pursue common interests, promote the common good and engage in civic activities. Civil society plays an important role in advocacy and activism.
Campaign: A coordinated series of actions, strategies and efforts aimed at achieving specific goals within a specified timeframe. Campaigns often involve advocacy, awareness-raising, mobilisation and media work to influence public opinion and decision-making.
Petition: A formal written request or document signed by individuals or groups to express support or opposition to a particular issue or cause. Petitions are often used as a tool for advocacy and may be submitted to government bodies or other relevant authorities.
Direct action: A form of activism that uses immediate, non-violent confrontational methods to draw attention to an issue, disrupt existing systems or challenge perceived injustices. Direct action can include protests, sit-ins, strikes or other forms of civil disobedience.
Policy change: The process of changing or creating new policies or regulations to address specific societal issues or concerns. Advocacy and activism often aim to influence policy change at the local, national or European Union level.
Stakeholder engagement: The process of involving and consulting different individuals, groups and organisations that are affected by or have an interest in a particular issue. Stakeholder engagement promotes inclusiveness, collaboration and the consideration of diverse perspectives in decision-making processes.
Solidarity: A sense of unity, support and collective action among individuals or groups who share common values, goals or interests. Solidarity is often emphasised in advocacy and activism as a means of building broader movements and achieving collective impact.
Policy brief: A concise document that outlines key information, analysis and recommendations on a specific policy issue. Policy briefs are often used by advocates and activists to inform decision-makers, stakeholders and the public about the importance of an issue and potential solutions.
Media advocacy: The strategic use of media channels and communication tools to raise awareness, shape public opinion and influence policy outcomes. Media advocacy involves working with journalists, using social media, producing press releases and using other media platforms to amplify messages and advocate for change.
Inspirational Practice: AMNESTY INTERNATIONAL
Amnesty International is a global organization dedicated to the defense of human rights worldwide. The organization plays a significant role in advocacy at the European level, working to promote human rights, condemn human rights violations, and influence European Union policies and laws.
Amnesty International employs a variety of advocacy strategies, including in-depth research, awareness campaigns, government lobbying, and civil society mobilization efforts. The organization actively engages with EU institutions such as the European Parliament and the European Commission to urge concrete actions on the protection and promotion of human rights.
Through its presence and influence at the European level, Amnesty International has helped raise important human rights issues such as torture, the death penalty, the rights of migrants and refugees, freedom of expression, and much more. The organization has demonstrated the importance of activism and advocacy in shaping the human rights agenda in the EU and impacting policies and decisions made at the European level.
The example of Amnesty International highlights how an organization or entity engaged in advocacy and activism can play a significant role in promoting human rights and influencing decision-making processes at the European level.