Securing Gender Equality
The U.S. Department of State
In Afghanistan, women and girls face significant barriers to education and meaningful participation in political, economic and social development. Though conditions have improved since the fall of the Taliban in 2001, illiteracy rates have reached 80 percent and many women and girls experience gender-based violence.
The international community had to be heavily engaged in supporting capacity building within the Government of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan (GiRoA) to improve its ability to address the many needs of its largely impoverished nation. Governmental capacity was so weak and the challenges of development so great, however, that civil society organizations (CSOs) were essential in helping the government meet the needs of the Afghan people.
Within women’s civil society organizations at the time, the technical and institutional maturity level was poor and needs were great. In general, women’s CSOs had to improve their capacity in every area area of management from human resources to finance and governance. Moreover, women’s CSOs were severely limited in their ability to comprehend political decision-making processes and lacked the know-how to formulate effective advocacy strategies.
In July 2009, the U.S. Ambassador in Afghanistan announced a grants program for civil society organizations that were working to secure gender equality for Afghan women and girls. The U.S. Ambassador’s Small Grants Program to Support Gender Equality in Afghanistan was funded by USAID and administered by Creative Associates. Common Ground played the long-term role of institutional development specialist, responsible for a variety of key deliverables.
The U.S. Ambassador’s Small Grants Program to Support Gender Equality in Afghanistan worked to improve the status and quality of life of Afghan women and girls. Through more than $16 million in small grants to more than 1,000 Afghan organizations, the program reached more than 400,000 Afghan women and girls. (Creative Associates)
Common Ground made many trips to Afghanistan over the course of the project and our work there inclded a wide variety of responsibilities:
Developing Infrastructure — Our involvement in the project began in 2009 when we helped design a structured capacity building initiative for future grantees. Our work continued with the drafting of the project’s logic model and results framework.
Preparing Staff to Work as Change Agents — With the goal of the program to improve the status and quality of life of Afghan women and girls, it was also our job to prepare local and expat staff for their challenging roles. Through training and coaching, we laid the groundwork for powerful leaders to emerge.
Building Trust — In the midst of war, high-trust relationships are difficult to find. Nevertheless, if a program like this one is to be successful, trust must be cultivated. All around the world, Common Ground has sparked conversations about the “Economics of Trust™.” In Afghanistan, this was an integral part of our work with program staff, the organizations seeking funding, and the consultants and technical assistance providers we trained.
Creating New Frameworks for Assessing & Building Capacity — Working closely with project leadership, we developed a new Institutional and Gender Audit Tool (I&GA) which measures traditional organizational capacity, but through a carefully-designed “gender frame.” Emphasizing gender mainstreaming, this facilitated self-assessment created a baseline and benchmarks for potential grantees in seven competency areas.
Supporting Indigenous Leadership — One of our key responsibilities included working with a cadre of 30+ local experts, preparing them to be the project’s primary technical assistance providers. These experts participated in an adapted version of our Consulting Academy™. We’ve lead this highly-interactive, multi-day workshop in several countries, helping civil society activists learn practical ways of thinking, talking, and acting in their roles as “consultants.”
Building An “Activist” Base — A critical aspect of the ASGP was to strengthen the capacity of CSOs and the Ministry of Women’s Affairs to advocate effectively, reliably, and consistently on behalf of women constituents. One way of doing this was by creating opportunities for women and men to work together to advocate effectively for change.
Making Strategic Investments — Another of the key aspects of the ASGP was the awarding of millions of dollars in grants to women-focused CSOs. Our involvement in this aspect of the work came through our training of the project’s Capacity Development Technical Assistants (CDTAs). These contracted consultants worked closely with potential grantees, assessing capacity; creating institutional strengthening plans; and helping applicants shape their grant proposals.
Connecting the Dots — With this project, Common Ground has been afforded the opportunity to leverage a variety of our strengths in service of an important set of outcomes. It tapped our experience in dealing with oppression (in this case gender inequality). It required our expertise when it came to measuring and improving institutional capacity and sustainability. It gave us the chance to train in a new part of the world—with new cultural norms, language challenges, and in the midst of an ongoing conflict. And, it offered us the chance to practice what we preach—namely “living life on the edge of our comfort zone.”
Afghan women are no longer silent. They are a force for progress. From now on, if we have sons, we will teach them to stand up for girls, and if we have daughters, we will make sure they know their value and remember the struggles of the women before them. Our struggle continues, but our hope will not fade.