On the ten-year anniversary of Initiative for Equality’s founding, we celebrate IfE’s past decade of action – and prepare for the coming years. This is a critical time for humanity and the earth. We need to scale up and make a much more profound impact.
IfE’s Field Hearings were popular and spread rapidly around the world. Community members in Malawi cried during these public discussions, saying that this was the first time they had ever been asked for their opinions on anything. A community in Kyrgyzstan, scheduled for a 2-hour Field Hearing, was still talking after seven hours! An informal migrant settlement in South Africa said talking was not enough: we must take action on the ideas suggested. We agreed, and promised to do so.
IfE functions as a network, not a top-down NGO. We take input, make decisions in a participatory way, and implement our strategies through member groups on the ground. The members, in turn, take input through Field Hearings in the communities where they work. This means our activities are based on local knowledge and priorities. It also means we are almost unlimited in where we can implement popular and effective strategies, based on shared objectives .
After presenting the results of IfE’s Field Hearings to the UN’s Open Working Group writing the Sustainable Development Goals, I finished with a strong call for a stand-alone goal on equality. As the next speaker began, the Co-Chair of the OWG, Ambassador Macharia Kamau, passed me a handwritten note: “Do you have draft language for a goal on equality?” “Not yet,” I replied, “but I will get it to you before the end of the day.” That was 25 November 2013.  We held a global consultation throughout our network and submitted revised wording later. After months of fierce debate in which the goal was added and removed several times, we finally won Goal 10 when the G77 countries plus China decided to back it in June of 2014. Big celebration!
What have we accomplished in our first ten years?
Brought voices of poor and marginalized communities to the forefront
- Conducted Field Hearings in more than 120 communities on 4 continents
- Brought these community voices into global discussions through stories, reports, conferences, and UN platforms
- Provided coordinators, experts, speakers (including community members) and focal points at Rio+20 (Brazil, 2012), Department of Public Information NGO meetings, Department of Economic and Social Affairs discussions, Permanent Forum on Indigenous Issues meetings, and UNESCO’s International Social Science Council, among others
Advanced equality through global, regional and national collaborations
- Convened Equity Treaty negotiation including prominant organizations on every continent
- Drafted, advocated for and achieved Goal 10 on Equality in the UN Sustainable Development Goals
- Drafted International Call to Address Inequalities and Social Justice in Climate Change Policy, signed by organizations from 50 countries; presented to COP21 Paris Climate Summit
- Organized 15 Country Committees to coordinate collective action towards IfE’s objectives
Responded to the pandemic crisis with global and local actions
- Held a global consultation to develop IfE’s Pandemic Response statement, focusing on dimensions of the crisis related to inequalities 
- Followed up with local-scale pandemic education and advocacy projects by 23 partners in Africa, Asia and Brazil 
Advocated for and with the Indigenous Batwa People
- Set up 18-member indigenous rights network across Rwanda, Burundi and DR Congo
- Documented attacks and human rights violations against indigenous Batwa people; taking these to UN indigenous rights, human rights, peace-keeping and humanitarian agencies
- Worked on and helped fund an 18-month lawsuit, successfully overturning the 15-year prison terms of 8 indigenous people in DRC for attempting to reclaim their traditional lands
- Launched petition to call for release of unjustly imprisoned Batwa people in Burundi; submitted to UN human rights agencies
- Developed a 6-partner collaboration to address gender-based violence against Batwa women in Rwanda, Burundi and DRC (funded through 2023)
Strengthened our Secretariat in order to improve coordination among our member groups
- Built a large, representative Board of Advisors that sets priorities for the organization and chooses the Directors
- Obtained ECOSOC Consultative Status at the UN so our members could participate in civil society input mechanisms
- Strengthened our capacity to convene global initiatives, disseminate essential information, set up national and regional sub-networks, and facilitate strategy sessions, decision-making and fundraising by groups of IfE partners
In short, we have provided a platform for global networking, discussions and collaborations on equalities; brought the voices of the poorest and most marginalized communities to the forefront in international discussions; and helped build the narrative that inequalities are one of the main drivers underlying poverty, the extractive economy, conflict, health disparities, environmental degradation – and the main barrier to turning these scourges around.
In late January 2020, a nighttime military raid was launched on the little Batwa village of Muyange in Kahuzi Biega National Park of eastern DRC. Soldiers and ecoguards rounded up the sleepy, terrified people and dragged them away. Chief Kasula, his wife and six others were arrested, charged with several serious crimes, then convicted and sentenced to 15-year prison terms after a 1-day trial with no opportunity for legal defense. In the prison, they were forced to sleep on the ground in running sewage, and not fed or housed adequately. One man, Chekanabo Kayeye, became gravely ill and died many months later, on 25 April 2021.
The reason for these arrests was the determination of the Congolese government and its Western backers not to allow these indigenous people to regain access to their home territory inside the Park. Fortunately, one of IfE’s partners, RCF-RDC, immediately filed a legal appeal on behalf of Chief Kasula and seven others. With support and funding from IfE and four other international organizations, after 18 months of legal battle, on 30 July 2021 seven of the eight detainees had their lengthy sentences drastically reduced and were freed immediately. Only Chekanabo was no longer alive to walk away a free man. 
What are we planning to do next?
1. We’re following up on Goal 10!
Goal 10 is IfE’s child, and we need to nurture it. We’re launching a global consultation called Achieving Goal 10, in which we will ask for your advice on strategies and actions to overturn social, economic and political inequalities in every region of the world. Then we’ll provide a framework for national and global collaborations to implement the strategies. We hope you will respond when we call for your input!
2. We’re keeping our promise to the Field Hearings communities!
Our Community Empowerment project, called COMET for short, will facilitate more detailed discussions in the communities where we held Field Hearings (and others), to help them identify development projects that are feasible, sustainable, and pro-equality. Then we will link them up, as possible, with the resources and expertise needed to implement their priorities. This project is already in great demand, and should be very powerful once we gather the information and experts together to make it happen. Please volunteer, or share with your networks, when we put out the call!
3. We’re going to keep backing the Batwa!
These former hunter-gatherers, previously known as Pygmies, are thought to be the oldest human culture still living on earth. Yet they are currently fighting for their lives, their land, their human rights, food security, and safety from attacks and conflict. This is unacceptable. We won’t rest until they are socially, economically and politically empowered to live the life they choose, on their own terms.
As these and many other stories illustrate, on our ten-year anniversary, we can proudly say that IfE is:
- a network that can gather information and implement action almost anywhere in the world,
- a collaboration by serious activists who recognize that we must work together strategically and in global solidarity, to make the systemic changes urgently needed, and
- a global family that listens to, cares about and supports its members!
How can you get involved?
Whether you are an individual or an organization, we are actively seeking partners. Please get involved with IfE: click here to join one of our projects.
Every gift makes an important difference to save lives and advance equality. Please donate – monthly if you are able – to support IfE’s work: click here to make a donation.
We look forward to working with you!
 Read more stories from the Field Hearings: https://news.trust.org/item/20140127041537-pzlma/ ; http://www.ipsnews.net/2013/12/bringing-cameroons-marginalised-poverty-debate/ ; https://initiativeforequality.org/wp-content/uploads/Waiting-to-be-Heard-June-2012-IfE.pdf
 See IfE’s Vision and Mission Statement: https://www.
 Watch the speech at the UN that launched Goal 10 (starts at 3 minutes 15 seconds): https://media.un.org/en/asset/
 See IfE’s global Pandemic Response Statement and signatures: https://www.initiativeforequality.org/pandemic-response-must-build-equality-solidarity/
 Local pandemic education and advocacy projects (with photos) https://www.
 Read more about these arrests, the legal battle and the victory freeing the detainees: https://www.