- Civil Society
‘Development of civil society requires time, indigenous effort, evaluation and appropriate international support as well as recognition of the power of collective voices and actions.’ - Civil Society Development in Afghanistan, Elizabeth Winter
Civil society takes a variety of forms, from registered non-governmental organizations (NGOs), community and self-help groups, art and cultural associations, women’s organizations, professional associations, trade unions, business associations, faith based organizations, umbrella groups, youth groups and coalitions. In Afghanistan civil society organisations and actors have been important agents of change. The growth of a vibrant and diverse local civil society in Afghanistan is cited as one of the great successes of the last 15 years. However, the country has long enjoyed the positive influence of civil society before the 2001 international intervention.
Afghan civil society
As stated, there is great breadth and diversity within Afghan civil society. Whilst many more groups identified themselves after the 2001 intervention, others have been operating in the country for decades beforehand. Afghan organisations support vulnerable groups such as refugees and internally displaced persons, children, disabled people and, in a patriarchal society, women.
In more recent years, they have come together in networks and umbrella groups, recognising the value of collective approaches. These groups have also become a force in the increased advocacy activities of Afghan civil society. In 2001 a separate conference for civil society participants, with involvement by BAAG, was held to ensure their views were taken into account during the Bonn peace process. Since then they have participated in various other international development conferences, including the two organised by BAAG in London in 2010 and 2014. Whilst the neutrality and impartiality of all civil society is important, the Afghan government’s recognition of and consultation with some Afghan civil society groups can be considered encouraging.
However there are concerns that Afghan civil society still lacks essential funding at a time when civil society actors would like to further develop the capacity of their organisations, and continue to expand their work in the provinces. Smaller or grass-root organisations in the provinces often lack the resources to develop skills and capacity to compete for grants that would enable these activities. Moreover, the space for such organisations in Afghan society is shrinking; their vital contributions are unlikely to be realised unless there is an open, conducive environment for civil society in Afghanistan, marked by a partnership of mutual benefit and respect between organisations, networks and their government.
International NGOs and donors should recognise and act on their critical role in facilitating the development of Afghan civil society in collaboration with Afghan men and women – a long term commitment. According to our consultations with Afghan civil society actors, there is a need to ‘recognise and assess the impact of their actions in order to develop appropriate programming, define funding needs and encourage themselves to continue with the work.’ (Civil Society Development in Afghanistan)
BAAG’s members form a long standing and significant part of an international development and humanitarian response in Afghanistan. ACBAR – the Agency Coordinating Body for Afghan Relief & Development, a partner of BAAG – have 135 NGO members, the majority of which are international. The International Assistance Mission (IAM) has been present in Afghanistan since 1966, international NGOs like the Swedish Committee and Afghanaid started operations in 1983, whilst many other INGOs started operating in Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban in 2001.
International NGOs have, in some instances, become proxy service providers in Afghanistan. They have established and run hospitals, health clinics and schools, they train medical and educational professionals. They form an essential part of the well-being of the Afghan people. Other sectors in which they play important roles are agriculture, water & sanitation and community development.
International NGOs have also played a vital role in humanitarian response, working alongside their national partners, the UN and the Afghan government and helping raise emergency funds when crises occur.
But they work in an extremely difficult environment. Afghanistan is one of the most dangerous places for aid workers, with 66 of them killed there in 2015 alone. Insecurity also hampers their ability to implement projects, and has seen many programmes temporarily or permanently halted as delivery becomes too dangerous.
BAAG’s member organisations also face other challenges including diminishing funds for Afghanistan, pressure to cooperate with armed groups for access to communities, limited capacities within the Afghan government departments interacting with NGOs and difficulties in recruiting qualified staff to work in the country. More details can be seen in our Transition and NGOs in Afghanistan report.
What BAAG is doing
BAAG’s membership structure is built around the continued need to bring together international NGOs for collective advocacy, policy, information sharing and research work. In addition, the promotion of Afghan civil society is a strategic priority for BAAG underpinning our mandate to bring Afghan voices into decision making processes. Most recently this has been achieved in the international arena at the 2016 Brussels Conference on Afghanistan, where BAAG hosted civil society events in the margins of the main donor conference.
Our work includes joint policy and advocacy work with members, partner networks ACBAR and ENNA and with Afghan civil society; quarterly consultation meetings of members with representatives of the British Department for International Development, Foreign & Commonwealth Office and Ministry of Defence; research and campaigning on issues faced by civil society; the promotion of Afghan-authored blogs in our Views and Voices webpage; conferences and panel discussions bringing together international NGOs and Afghan civil society with policy-makers, academics, researchers and the media; and training for Afghan civil society organisations and actors. Details of many of these can be found in the BAAG Reports section of our Resources library.
What our Members are doing
Our members partner with Afghan organisations as implementers as much as possible. In doing so, they benefit from the knowledge and increased community access and acceptance they bring and have the opportunity to identify and fill some capacity development needs.
It is now time for a more sincerely committed government to act in partnership with civil society
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