3 Reasons to Care about Civic Literacy

Mar 16, 2017

Civic literacy stands for the knowledge of how actively participate and initiate change in your community and the wider society. Civil society organizations in Ukraine keep proving every day that the citizens’ power is a true driver of peaceful change.

To assess the level of civic literacy in Ukraine, UNDP has commissioned a sociologic survey that was conducted in July-September 2016. We have also commissioned a similar study in Moldova, while Pact Inc had a similar exercise in Belarus. The concept of "Citizenship of the 21 century" was used as a baseline methodology and allowed us to compare the findings from three countries in the areas of civic knowledge, civic behaviour, civic attitudes and beliefs, and prospects for civic education. The research revealed how well the public of the three countries understands the mechanisms of cooperation between the state and the citizens, to what degree it is involved in public life on the local and national levels, and what knowledge is required in this regard. The prevalence of different beliefs and values relating to human rights and democratic governance was also assessed.

Apart from the representative survey data from the focus groups in three countries, the research also includes experts’ comments on the findings. Presentation of the survey results took place in Minsk, Belarus, on 15 March 2017. During the event, the experts from all three countries had an opportunity to compare polling results, define common trends and discuss ways for further strengthening of civic education.

In Ukrainian context, the survey proved the importance of increasing the level of civic literacy that is one of UNDP priorities. Here is why:

1. CIVIC KNOWLEDGE: Helping Ukrainians to know more about their rights and duties contributes to more effective participation in civic life

  • When asked about the most important civic rights, Ukrainians usually mention the right to work (25%), freedom of speech (20%), education (18%), health care (13%), and the right to vote (9%). About one in three citizens could not name a single right.

  • In terms of duties, Ukrainians mentioned the duties to comply with law and order (32%), to pay taxes (21%), to serve in the army and/or defend the country (15%), to vote in elections (6%) and to work (5%). 39% of respondents were unable to name a single duty. The experts see these results as an indication that the public has more demands on the state than on themselves.

  • A significant number of respondents erred or had difficulty to reply who is the sole source of state power and the bearer of sovereignty. 41% of Ukrainians know that it is the people, while the other 40% think it’s the President.

  • Another important indicator is the knowledge of their representatives in the elected state bodies. Only 14% of Ukrainians correctly named the Member of Parliament from their constituency at the Parliament, another 11% knew the name of their local councillor.

  • Knowledge of international relations was assessed on the basis of correct and wrong assumptions about the conditions of the Ukraine's Association Agreement with the European Union. One third of Ukrainians understand that the Agreement does not give them the right for a visa-free regime, while half of respondents think the opposite. Only 26% of Ukrainians understand that the Agreement does not mean that the EU-produced goods will immediately flood the new markets without restriction; however, 48% believe that this is what is going to happen. The only statement that 61% of respondents considered to be true, and is true, is the need for local manufacturers to follow the EU standards instead of the existing ones.

    With improved civic knowledge, Ukrainians will be able to make informed choices and influence policy development and decision-making, as well as to improve the life of their communities.

2. CIVIC VALUES AND BELIEFS: fostering the qualities of a good citizen takes time, but contributes to wider exercising of the civic rights and duties at local and national levels

  • The top 5 values that are personally important for Ukrainians are respect for human life (48%), human rights (42%), social justice (36%), obedience to the law (34%), and personal freedom (31%).

  • A good citizen is characterised as a person who always pays taxes, votes in elections, obeys to the rules and laws, performs military service, knows well the history of the country, duties and rights, and is able to defend them.

  • Respect for other people who are different in some way is a necessary quality of a citizen of a democratic society. Unfortunately, the findings of the study show that prejudice against different social groups is still quite strong: 55% of Ukrainians object to living next door to the representatives of sexual minorities; a cautious attitude predominates to ex-prisoners (52% intolerant), immigrants (22%) and representatives of other races/ethnicities (14%).

  • 56% of Ukrainian citizens disagree with a statement that economic growth must be the priority, even if it has a negative impact on the environment, and 67% agree that environmental protection should be a priority.

    To build a health democratic society a lot needs to be done to promote respect for individual worth and human dignity, to enhance the recognition of equal rights and readiness to support others in the fight for their rights, and to develop better understanding of economic and political principles.

3. CIVIC BEHAVIOUR: turning knowledge into action is important all the way from assuming the citizens’ political and economic duties to participating in the life of the local community in a thoughtful and effective manner

  • Ukrainians claim high level of civic activism: 66% are ready to counter illegal industrial construction near their house, 52% are ready to take part in protests, and 11% to organize the protests.

  • The issues that could induce Ukrainians to participate in the street protests are the price hike, increased utility bills, income decrease, violation of human rights and environmental issues.

  • When it comes to de facto civic engagement (vis-a-vis the respondents’ claims), roughly half of them reported taking part in cleaning up local area, organizing joint actions with neighbours, attending the meetings of residents or taking part in signature collection.

  • An important indicator of civic participation rate is how citizens assess their influence on what is going on in Ukraine (at the national level) and in their area (local level). Almost two thirds said they have no means to influence the national life, while a half said they cannot make any difference to the life in their municipality. The most efficient ways to interact and influence the authorities are national and local elections (40% and 43% respectively), rallies and protests (18%). At the same time, almost 60% vote at the elections while only 6% take part in rallies and protests.

If citizens act jointly towards finding the effective solutions to the local problems, it could bring additional benefits to individuals and the state.