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Bilde: Our work: Governance and civil society 
Foto: Halvard Hjermundrud

Our work: Governance and civil society

Through sustained programs of advocacy, capacity building and technical and material support, NAC works towards ensuring Afghanistan has a strong and vibrant civil society, and in strengthening relationships between government and civil society actors.

Prosjekt/ onsdag 23. august 2017

Afghanistan’s and NAC’s shared vision of a more peaceful, healthy and inclusive society can only be realized through improving governance and civil society in the country.

Through sustained programs of advocacy, capacity building and technical and material support, NAC works towards ensuring Afghanistan has a strong and vibrant civil society, and in strengthening relationships between government and civil society actors.

Supporting governance bodies

In 2016, NAC continued its support for governance structures at district and community levels. This has involved working closely in Badakhshan, Faryab and Ghazni provinces with Community Development Councils and District Development Assemblies. Specifically, NAC has provided these sub-national governance bodies with training and follow-up suppport on community development planning and small scale-infrastructure development - two critical areas for Afghan communities’ sustainable development. NAC has reduced involvement with these governance bodies in 2016 in anticipation of the national transition to new bodies and elections of new members in 2017, in connection with the upcoming ‘Citizens’ Charter’.

Self Help Groups – a growing force for women’s empowerment

Building on our successes over the past few years, NAC has continued working in Badakhshan and Ghazni to establish and support Self Help Groups – groups of 10-15 women who work together to generate income through micro-business initiatives.

Self Help Groups work in three ways: 1) empowering Afghan women – challenging conservative and repressive gender stereotypes, strengthening women’s positions in society and promoting their independence, both socially and economically; 2) supporting women in developing valuable knowledge and skills, such as numeracy and entrepreneurship, which they can use in different areas of their lives, and; 3) increasing sustainability by focusing on locally-based micro-businesses; local products, including agricultural products; and traditional knowledge and cultural practices such as weaving and sewing.

As communities become more aware of the activities and benefits of Self Help Groups, interest and support grows. More women seek to join existing Self Help Groups, or form new ones and communities begin to relax some of the conservative strictures, which traditionally block women from participating in activities outside of their households. 11 new Self Help Groups have been established in 2016, bringing the total of existing groups to 68.

Self Help Groups are also proving resilient to security pressures which are increasing in many parts of Afghanistan. We have seen that several Self Help Groups that were forced to disband because of the worsening security situation in parts of Badakhshan in 2015, have been restarted by their members in 2016. This shows incredible perseverance and dedication in the face of adversity and validates the importance of these organizations for their members and communities.

The impacts of this initiative are truly being felt and involve a combination of positive economic and social changes. On an economic level alone, Self Help Groups have managed to save up to USD 900 per year.

Based on a recent evaluation of the Self Help Groups, we found that most women participants felt that they now have more influence over economic decisions within their families than before joining the Self Help Groups. As men see their female relatives are able to use the numeracy and entrepreneurial skills gained in Self Help Groups, in actually supporting their families, they are gradually giving women more say and control of family finances – this is a small, but significant movement towards positive social change.

With support from NAC, Self Help Groups are getting more sustainable access to markets to sell their products. For example, Self Help Group products are gaining a higher profile outside of the communities in which they are produced and now even being sold in a special shop in Badakhshan’s Faizabad airport.

Social cohesion through sharing resources

Promoting sound and equitable management of vital community resources is a NAC priority - this leads to greater social cohesion and more sustainable access to the resources all community members need.

Undoubtedly, water is one of the most precious resources, without which no individual or community can survive. With this in mind, NAC has worked with the Afghan communities we support to establish Social Water Management Committees. These committees, developed in accordance with Ministry of Agriculture, Irrigation and Livestock (MAIL) guidelines, work to ensure that water is shared equitably within and between communities. There are often particular tensions around access to and usage of water between communities with different ethnic groups and the Social Water Management Committees can be instrumental in reducing these tensions and resolving specific disputes.

Women’s active participation is an important element of the effectiveness of Social Water Management Committees, and women are key members and also serve in leadership positions such as chairs and co-chairs. Women’s participation is essential, not only in improving gender equity and equality, but also because women, especially in rural communities, often need the most access to water as they are typically responsible for household domestic duties including washing and cooking, as well as agricultural work, such as looking after cattle.

Involving Afghan communities in participatory monitoring and evaluation

Too often in Afghanistan, civil society organizations lack the key capacities necessary for them to effectively fulfill their functions. Local communities, in particular, lack skills and experience in assessing their own needs and monitoring and evaluating the implementation of critical programs and services, such as health and education.

To rectify this, NAC works with civil society organizations in the communities we support to provide them with the skills they need to do participatory monitoring and evaluation. Participatory approaches equip and empower civil society organizations to be key actors, and ultimately leaders, in the development of their own communities. 

Afghan civil society has international influence

NAC continues our support of the Badakhshan Civil Society Forum. This is a forum for different civil society organizations to come together, share experiences and plan collaboratively in building a strong network of civil society actors in Badakhshan. Although this association has clear influence within Badakhshan, in 2016 it was able to contribute valuable insights from Badakhshan’s civil society to other parts of Afghanistan and beyond.

In October 2016, an important conference was held in Brussels focused on development and reform in Afghanistan. Participants from the Afghan government, 75 countries and 26 international organizations and agencies attended and the resolutions that resulted will inform funding for aid and development, and other international engagements with Afghanistan for years to come.

NAC was chosen to facilitate a contribution to this conference in the form of statements presenting the views of Badakhshan’s civil society on their needs, aspirations and perspectives on the future of Afghanistan. Working together with the Badakhshan Civil Society Forum, NAC first conducted research into the perspectives of Badakhshan’s civil society actors from six of the province’s districts. This research was then used to inform a workshop conducted together with representatives from the Badakhshan Civil Society Forum and in coordination with the United Nations Assistance Mission in Afghanistan (UNAMA) and the Aga Khan Foundation, to formulate the statements which were later shared at the Brussels conference.

Supporting local NGOs

In 2016, NAC has continued our support for Afghan NGOs helping to build their capacities in developing their policies, managing their organizations and in accessing funding, planning, implementing and monitoring projects. We do this in coordination with the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief and Development (ACBAR), on an initiative which partners international NGOs with Afghan NGOs. This fosters mutual learning, and supports the Afghan NGOs in working more effectively and transparently.

NAC is ‘twinned’ with two Afghan NGOs -  AREA (Agency for Rehabilitation and Energy Conservation in Afghanistan) and SAF (Solidarity for Afghan Families). This five-year commitment is helping AREA and SAF strengthen their organizations to meet the demands of development and humanitarian relief work in Afghanistan, and to survive in an increasingly competitive funding environment.

Example from practice:

Citizens’ Monitoring in Jaghori

Noor Association is a grassroots civil society organization, based in Pato village in Jaghori district, Ghazni province. In 2016, NAC worked with Noor Association, facilitating training in using Citizens’ Monitoring, a participatory approach to community-based monitoring and evaluation.

As Mr. Farhad Ekhlasi, the head of Noor Association explained, ‘This training was very useful for us. We learned how to identify important advocacy issues in our community, begin the process of advocacy and convince decision-makers to take concrete steps to improve basic service delivery in the village’.

NAC provided training in the concepts and methods of Citizens’ Monitoring and also supported Noor Association to actually implement this participatory approach on the ground.

After the initial training, Noor Association began the Citizens’ Monitoring process in their village by working with the community in choosing a challenge to focus on – the challenge ended up being ‘women’s lack of literacy’.

After identifying the challenge, they trained community research teams and supported them in gathering and analyzing data related to women’s literacy.

Discussing the process, Sima, a Noor Association member, said, ‘When we held meetings with the Community Development Councils (CDCs) in our village to seek their endorsement for the Citizens’ Monitoring activity, all the CDC members offered their cooperation and this really encouraged us to work for the education of our women.’

After researching into the challenge of literacy for women in the village, Noor Association organized a community meeting to present their findings, discuss these with the community and advocate for change. They also invited the district literacy manager, community-based organizations, religious leaders, traditional elders and some media representatives to the meeting.

Another Noor Association member explained, ‘When we invited the traditional elders, at first they were worried, but we started the meeting very warmly and when the results of our evaluation and recommendations were shared, with a lot of feedback from women, they felt this was very positive’. NAC has supported Noor Association in their advocacy on improving women’s access to literacy in the village, the district and beyond, motivating people at different levels to support this worthwhile initiative.

As a result of this participatory, Citizens’ Monitoring activity, the village and district literacy department has been motivated to establish a ‘literacy and life skills center’ for women in Pato village, and 32 similar centers in other parts of the district. This will have positive future impacts on women’s literacy and empowerment. As Mr. Ekhlasi said, ‘The empowerment of women has only just started and it will continue to bring achievements in the future. We are thankful to NAC for their contributions and support!’. 

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