Engaging Marginalized Women in Afghanistan in Decision Making and Accountability | Findings from Feedback System Design Workshops | Carolyn Davis | OCHA Afghanistan Accountability to Affected People Advisor | April 2022



This OCHA Afghanistan initiative provided an opportunity for older women, widows, women with disabilities, single women who head households, and other marginalized women to help design a community feedback system for the humanitarian response. It also offered lessons on involving marginalized people in response decision making. The approximately 100 women who participated in eight Focus Group Discussions (FGDs) and workshops in late 2021 and early 2022 in Balkh, Bamyan, Herat and Nangarhar provinces overwhelmingly expressed a desire to be heard by humanitarian responders and appreciation at being engaged. Even though most women brought family documents with them to make their case for assistance, they accepted the explanation given at the beginning of the workshop that their participation was about them contributing to the greater good of women like themselves. The OCHA AAP advisor in the workshop was approached by only one woman after the sessions who asked for aid for her family.

Except for one group of female civil society activists, all the women who expressed their opinions said they discussed their problems with trusted people in their communities. They cited the same human channel for their design of a feedback-response system they would trust and could access. As is to be expected, which people are included in a face-to-face communication channel was highly personal and differed by location and participant: Some women said they first would take a problem to their husband or other male relative. Others would not take assault complaints to their husbands out of fear their spouse might try to kill the accused assailant.

Participants universally cited female friends, family, and health workers as trustworthy and accessible feedback collectors. The recommendations at the end of this report reflect the input the women gave, including the usefulness of a telephone hotline for those who do not trust local leaders. Some women also listened to radio programming over their phones.

Participants’ comments show the need for aid organizations to do a much better job of responding to people who submit feedback and, especially, make complaints. Women repeatedly said they rarely heard back when they had given feedback. A fundamental AAP principle is the need to “close the feedback loop.” Feedback systems that do not “close the feedback loop” are incomplete and not effective. Women in the workshops asked for accurate information and promises kept if they do get a reply.

The workshop methodology evolved, based on women’s early reactions, to allow time for explaining how humanitarian feedback-response mechanisms are supposed to work and what they are meant to accomplish. The expanded time also allowed for a full group to split into smaller ones, which used a tree diagram to “design” their feedback system. This approach was better, but more testing and fine-tuning is needed. Recommendations regarding the methodology include more training of female national staff of OCHA, UN women and other organizations in the methodology and more workshops held.

Once further testing and adjustments are made and facilitators are well-trained, this methodology could be used to involve more women and other marginalized populations in gaining knowledge about how humanitarian operations work and giving them opportunities to be part of design of programming and activities that promote accountability in the response.

This report will be given to the Inter-Cluster Coordination Team (ICCT) so that relevant recommendations can be acted on quickly for women in communities impacted by the recent earthquake in Paktika and Khost Provinces, and to the AAP Working Group’s Feedback-Response Mechanism sub-WG to inform a guidance note it is writing on a community feedback channel. It also will be shared with OCHA Afghanistan, which sponsored the workshops, and UN Women, which has agreed to conduct more as needed. Those UN agencies also could support utilizing the recommendations and, therefore, the women’s input, in the emergency earthquake response.


UN Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs
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