Refugees International conducts advocacy training for the Afghan Women's Network in Kabul

On January 20th and 21st 2003, Refugees International Advocates Michelle Brown and Ada Williams worked with the Afghan Women's Network, the largest women's network in Pakistan and Afghanistan, to deliver a two-day advocacy training in Kabul for 17 women leaders of Afghan non-governmental organizations.
"Now that I have a better idea of how advocacy works, we can think bigger and scale-up our efforts," said Rohela Hashim Sadiqi, the director of Rabia-e-Balkhi Rehabilitation and Skill Building Agency (RRSA). RRSA works in communities in 5 provinces in Afghanistan. Their main goal is to build the capacity of women in leadership positions and at the community level. RRSA helps women form groups in villages and come together to identify their problems and solutions to those problems.

The training fulfilled a long-standing RI commitment that grew out of a December 2001 meeting with representatives of several Afghan women's groups in Peshawar, Pakistan. The women leaders expressed frustration at their lack of advocacy skills and their difficulties in carrying their concerns to the policy arena at a time when the international community and the new Afghan authorities were beginning to make plans for the future of Afghanistan. RI and the leaders agreed that holding a training workshop on advocacy would be an important support to their organizations in the new Afghan context.

The training focused on how to develop and implement effective advocacy campaigns and dealt with topics such as:

  • Understanding the advocacy process and how advocacy results in policy change;

  • Setting policy-focused advocacy objectives;

  • Developing compelling advocacy messages;

  • Networking and coalition-building as tools for effective advocacy;

  • Developing effective advocacy implementation plans.

The key outcome of the training workshop was the decision of the 17 women leaders to form a coalition to focus on their top priority issue: the inclusion of women's issues in the new constitution for Afghanistan. They are already applying their new advocacy skills towards this priority cause. Within days of the completion of the training workshop, the women developed a plan to use two facilitators to conduct 10 meetings over the next two months in each province in Afghanistan. The coalition will use existing community-based organizations and women's networks from member NGOs to raise awareness about women's rights and to get ideas from as many women as possible about what should be included in the new constitution. The coalition will then compile recommendations from the women and will present them to the Constitutional Commission. The coalition of women's NGOs received a commitment for funding from the German Embassy.

Afifa Azim, the Director of the Afghan Women's Network, told RI, "Before the advocacy training, we had an idea that we wanted to work on the constitution, but the training really motivated us to work together." The women themselves talked about how they wanted to do advocacy to include women's voices in the new constitution. "We are using what you taught us - the techniques and the planning. Now we know how we can change policies. We know what is possible and how we can make it possible."

The first part of the training focused on defining the term "advocacy." Many of the NGO leaders present at the training already conduct advocacy, usually at the local level by encouraging local authorities to respond the women's needs. At the end of the training, many of the women explained that they felt empowered by the idea that they were capable of effecting change at higher levels of the policy arena. The concepts and words that they associated with advocacy included defending the rights of people who lack the power to defend themselves, supporting women's rights, working together, action, and change. Based on their ideas and understanding of advocacy, they adopted the following definition (taken from the advocacy training guide of the Center for Development and Population Activities):

Advocacy is speaking up, drawing a community's attention to an important issue, and directing decision makers towards a solution. Advocacy is working with other people and organizations to make a difference.

One of the first steps in the advocacy process is developing a long-term goal and shorter-term objectives. After brainstorming about issues of concern to themselves and their communities, the women leaders came up with a list of 15 issues. After further discussion, they agreed on four priority issues on which they wanted to build an advocacy campaign: girl's and women's education, facilities such as electricity or community bakeries that would make women's lives easier, inclusion of Afghan women's voices in the drafting of the new constitution, and the international community's lack of concrete support for Afghan women. Finally, they reached consensus that the top priority issue was the inclusion of women's issues in the new constitution.

Many of the women expressed their concern over their lack of experience in working together to achieve common goals. Through our workshop Afghan women identified some of the benefits of working in a coalition: enhanced credibility, resource mobilization, increased support from the community, and cost-effectiveness. By the end of the workshop, many of them mentioned that working together more effectively would allow them to successfully change policies in the future.

All of the participants responded positively to the training and were excited and motivated to incorporate advocacy into their daily work. They were enthusiastic about the possibilities for changing policies or practices that adversely affect the lives of women.

After participating in the training, Rohena, from RRSA, explained, "Now, for any activity we do with the community, we need to consider how to transfer these ideas to the government. Communities know the answers to their problems, and now I know that they can be good advisors to the government." She went on to explain that she wanted to change the name of her organization from Rabia-e-Balkhi Rehabilitation and Skill Building Agency to Rabia-e-Balkhi Rehabilitation and Advocacy Agency.

RI Advocates Michelle Brown and Ada Williams are completing a three-week assessment mission to Afghanistan and Pakistan. They can be reached at