Institute for War and Peace Reporting | Giving Voice, Driving Change

Afghan Civil Society Groups Face Massive Challenges

Lack of awareness of what NGOs do means they need to work harder to get their message across.
By IWPR staff

Civil society activists speaking in a series of IWPR debates across north and central Afghanistan urged people to join them in the struggle for human rights.

Speakers at events in Takhar, Jowzjan and Daikundi provinces said their work could not be effective without widespread public support.

In Jowzjan, Abdul Manan Foroz, a reporter for the Bakhtar news agency, noted that Afghans, particularly those who lived in more remote areas, knew nothing about the function of civil society groups.

“People should be educated via the media, the mosques and tribal elders about the activities of civil society and the role it plays in democracies,” he said.

This was borne out by Khatul, an audience member in the Takhar debate, who said she still did not understand what civil society groups did.

Takhar activist Sayed Munir Ahmad Hadaf explained that the term “civil society” encompassed anyone who took part in a community initiative.

Across all the debates, panelists agreed that civil society institutions played a vital role in informing the public about their rights.

In Jowzjan, activist Baktash Mawlawizada argued that NGOs needed to lead efforts to raise public awareness of basic liberties as well as of the principles of good governance.

“Civil society activists should provide information about human rights and civic issues ahead of anyone else,” he said.

Humaira Qazizada, head of a women’s refuge called Safe House in Sheberghan, Jowzjan’s main town, stressed that NGOs had their work cut out.

“Human rights are violated wherever violence exists – and it  exists to a massive extent  in our country today,” she added.

Speakers in the Takhar debate agreed that it was particularly important for NGOs to work with the media to expose injustice and cruelty.

Activist Atiqullah Sahel noted one shocking incident of abuse which local campaigners had managed to resolve.

“Some time ago, a girl was swapped for a dog in Kunduz,” he said. “But we were able to return the girl to her family by exposing the case in the media.”

NGOs came in for some criticism in Daikundi in central Afghanistan, with local government officials complaining that they were incapable of addressing serious issues.

Sayed Ewaz Ali Kazemi, representing the provincial department for information and culture, said that his office was aware of the existence of some 100 NGOs in Daikundi. However, they lacked the necessary competence to carry out the work they were tasked to do.

“These institutions receive lots of money from donor countries, but they do not focus on what they are meant to be working on,” he said.

This report is based on an ongoing series of debates conducted as part of the IWPR programme Afghan Reconciliation: Promoting Peace and Building Trust by Engaging Civil Society.

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