Throughout its 50+ year history, Counterpart has been dedicated to working with local partners to build and strengthen institutions at the local, regional, and national level. In order for this to happen, the creation of a safe space for constructive dialogue between stakeholders is vitally important. Our experience working in over 30 countries has shown us that the voices of local communities and civil society leaders must be heard and factored into proposed solutions and country polices. Nowhere is this more true today than in Afghanistan.
A Seat at the Table
Since 2005, Counterpart has been working with fledging civil society organizations (CSOs) dedicated to the vision of an inclusive and democratic Afghanistan. Working in partnership with CSOs from all across Afghanistan, we have empowered organizations, activists and leaders to influence policy, ensure government transparency and advocate for political reforms.
The only NGO currently operating across all thirty-four provinces, Counterpart has been in a unique position to build the capacity of community leaders and civil society actors, ensuring that CSOs have continued to grow and mature, and that their important contributions are being noticed by both the Afghan government and the international community.
“When citizens participate, the result is stronger policies, stronger programs and a government that is better aligned with the needs of communities,” said Joan Parker, Counterpart’s President and CEO. “The role of civil society in Afghanistan is essential because it provides the pathway for citizens to engage and be a part of decisions that impact their lives,” she added.
Recently, two international events have demonstrated that the CSO sector in Afghanistan has gained a well-deserved seat at the table – a vital step on the path to successful state building, stability, and inclusive development.
Giving Civil Society a Seat at the Table
Representatives of 75 nations, the Government of Afghanistan and leaders from 26 international organizations met with members of Afghan CSOs at the Brussels Conference on Afghanistan recently, demonstrating the importance of dialogue with civil society on a global stage. At the forefront of the conference was the recognition of the unique role that Afghan civil society will play in assisting on the operationalization of the ambitious national development strategy that defines the post-2016 development priorities presented by the Afghan government – a role that Counterpart has been proud to help nurture and facilitate over the past 15 years of our work in country.
Counterpart worked in partnership with the British Irish Agencies Afghanistan Group (BAAG) to facilitate Afghan CSOs’ participation in this important international dialogue, bringing together ten civil society representatives from different organizations. Elected to participate by their colleagues and peers, these CSO leaders presented their perspective to international donors, organizations, governments and one another, giving a voice to the diverse needs of the Afghan citizenry.
In this global forum, Afghan CSO reps worked with governments from around the world to pursue commitments to reform in four major areas: economic growth, fighting corruption, increasing government transparency, and accountability. As Azizurrahman Rafiee, the Executive Director of the Afghan Civil Society Forum and Counterpart International partner, explained to the audience,
“Civil society organizations, including NGOs, played a crucial role in service delivery during the years of conflict and should be resourced to continue doing so.” Rafiee said.
And, to the governments and donors represented at Brussels, Rafiee was clear: “We must all remember that the ultimate accountability is not between governments and donors: it is to the Afghan people.”
From Words to Action: The Inaugural International Conference for Persons with Disabilities
Building on the success and momentum from Brussels, Counterpart recently worked with the Afghan government and the U.S. Agency for International Development to host the inaugural International Conference for Persons with Disabilities. This first-of-its-kind conference in Afghanistan brought together 430 representatives from the Afghan government, international donors, NGOs, civil society and people with disabilities from all 34 provinces to the Salaam Khana Palace Presidential Palace in Kabul. Together, these diverse stakeholders worked hand in hand with civil society representatives to advance government policies to improve the lives of the more than 1.2 million people living with disabilities throughout Afghanistan.
As the Deputy Chief of Mission at the U.S. Embassy Kabul, Dennis Hearne, explains,
“This conference, with the attendance of the highest officials in the Afghan government, sends an important signal. It announces that the government of Afghanistan is a government of inclusion, even for those with the greatest barriers to participation.”
Delegates participated in roundtable discussions that included health and rehabilitation, education and learning, economic empowerment, social safety, job opportunities, access to information and gender issues; particularly issues confronting women with disabilities. Over two days, CSOs worked closely with government to engage in active discussion on the Afghanistan National Disability Action Plan. The 5-year strategic plan will provide concrete steps to assist persons with disabilities. This groundbreaking conference, coupled with this first-of-its kind Action Plan, further demonstrated the value of having civil society at the table with government and policy makers, and Counterpart is proud to have a hand in ensuring that this important dialogue continues.
Afghanistan’s civil society represents and amplifies the voices of citizens and the disenfranchised. Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development and the generous support of the American people, Counterpart’s commitment to supporting the capacity of civil society to address the needs of Afghans has included work with more than 150,000 citizen leaders working in 642 organizations all across the country, many specifically focused on women and youth. As we approach our 15th year in Afghanistan, we are humbled by the effort of our partners to become more viable, visible and vocal. They indeed have earned their seat at the table. As the famous Afghan proverb says, “There is a path to the top of even the highest mountain.” We are honored to walk this path with them, and we look forward to seeing what Afghan civil society is able to accomplish next.