GovAsia – Civil Society in Southeast Asia During the Covid-19 Pandemic


By Nicola Nixon

Across Southeast Asia, civil society organizations (CSOs) are supporting Covid-19 response efforts in a multitude of ways. In some contexts, they are providing healthcare, social protections, and welfare-related services, often focused on those with little access or who need them most. Based on a series of interviews with 47 CSO representatives in Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, the Philippines, Thailand, and Timor-Leste in March and April 2020, this paper provides firsthand snapshots of civil society’s role in and contributions to Covid-19 response efforts in Southeast Asia. It looks across the complex and diverse landscape of Southeast Asia and attempts to draw out some similarities in the experiences and observations of different civil society actors across that terrain.

Key Findings:

  1. CSOs throughout Southeast Asia are providing essential services and support to communities throughout the region, often substituting for government and reaching communities that are vulnerable or marginalized.
  2. Civil society itself is also struggling to cope with the pandemic. CSOs are struggling to maintain contact with their constituencies, especially those with little or no access to mobile phones or the internet, including indigenous communities, poor and isolated rural communities, undocumented residents, refugees and women.
  3. For those organizations whose mission involves democratization and human rights the operating environment in many places has become even more constrained than pre-Covid suggesting trends of rising illiberalism and democratic backsliding will only be exacerbated by the pandemic.
Posted September 24, 2020
Related locations: Cambodia, Indonesia, Malaysia, Myanmar, Philippines, Thailand, Timor-Leste
Related programs: Good Governance
Related topics: Civic Spaces, GovAsia