Participants in the National Policy Reform Conference hosted by Counterpart International take part in a panel discussion entitled Empowering Women and Youth during a late morning session on day one of the two-day conference. The panel discussions provided participants with an opportunity to voice their concerns and challenges directly to Afghan government officials.

© David Snyder/Counterpart International.

More than 250 Afghans – including leaders from civil society organizations, government officials and members of Parliament – will gather in Kabul Sept. 24 and 25 to outline advocacy plans related to five key policy areas, including women’s rights, government accountability and economic development, Counterpart International announced.

Funded by the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID) and organized by the global nonprofit Counterpart International (through the Initiative to Promote Afghan Civil Society), the 2012 National Policy Reform Conference (NPRC) will draw together diverse organizations to create common agendas based on more than 180 community and regional dialogues and key issues arising from last year’s NPRC. The civil society organizations will be joined at the national conference by elected and appointed officials.

“Afghan civil society organizations are advocates for their communities,” says Kelley Jones, Director of Counterpart’s office in Kabul. “This policy reform conference gives them an opportunity to coordinate and advance a united voice on the issues that their communities have raised.”

The Director of one of the coordinating organizations, Nazir Ahmad Mohmand of Basic Education and Employable Skill Training (BEST), echoes Jones’s comments and adds that the “national conference is an important step for the Afghan people” as it engages elected and appointed officials on the details of policies and proposals that can have a dramatic impact on their constituents.

Community dialogues with national impact

The two-day National Policy Reform Conference is the culmination of nearly a year of community and regional dialogues held in 30 provinces in which residents highlighted issues they considered to be most pressing for them. These dialogues were made possible with support and training from Counterpart to 19 major Afghan civil society organizations.

Counterpart’s Deputy Director of the Kabul office, Maiwand Rahyab, credits the local organizers with ensuring a balance based on gender, ethnic, religious and regional backgrounds at the community dialogues.

Malalai Roshandil, Director of Association of Defense for Women Right Organization (ADWRO), says this grassroots approach is essential to any policy changes or implementation.

“In the provinces, Afghans understand their development situation,” Roshandil says. “They are thinking how they can improve their provinces. When all Afghans gather in one place, particularly at the National Policy Reform Conference, they learn about other provinces’ needs and development successes.”

The grassroots meetings were followed by regional gatherings in which civil society organizations were able to discuss topics raised by residents and group them into five key areas. They are: Women and youth; health; economic and social; democracy and governance; and education.

The National Policy Reform Conference was first held in September 2011, a milestone since it brought together a broad range of civil society organizations to discuss and concur on issues of concern. The original list of five topics, which were later presented as policy papers, is the basis for this year’s conference. A third conference is scheduled for 2013.

The coordinating organizations of the 2012 National Policy Reform Conference are: Afghan Civil Society Forum (ACSFo); Afghan Women’s Education Center (AWEC);

Afghan Center for Training and Development (ACTD); Assistance to Defend Women’s Rights Organization (ADWRO); Basic Employable Skills Training (BEST); Center for Poor Women and Girls of Afghanistan (ECW); and Women’s Activities and Social Services Association (WASSA).

Multi-year civil society initiative

USAID is supporting the National Policy Reform Conferences, which include the grassroots dialogues, regional policy discussions, policy research papers and more. It is part of USAID’s multi-year civil society strengthening initiative that Counterpart, along with the International Center for Not for Profit Law is implementing.

“In order for Afghanistan to have a government that responds to the needs of citizens, it needs to have a modern, strong and active civil society,” Jones says.

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