The level of economic and social development in the Afghan countryside is very low. Conflicts, corruption and mismanagement in the administration result in local communities enjoying extremely limited opportunities to effect change. People are powerless, geared to survive, and cannot claim their rights against authorities. They often find it difficult to carry out the measures they think are necessary.
Everyone is entitled to exert influence
Contributing to effective, efficient governance at the local level is a vital part of SCA operations, but getting involved locally and demanding rights is neither simple nor risk-free. The current conflicts between the government and armed opposition groups over power and influence have led to further uncertainty. The hardest hit are the already vulnerable groups - women, children, people with disabilities and marginalised groups in rural areas. Other recurring problems include the general weakness of the state and the lack of ability and limited resources of local authorities.
One major problem is unequal representation in local decision-making bodies. Women and people with disabilities are often excluded from participating and making decisions, which means that their rights are not fulfilled. Their interests are protected to a lesser extent by both the authorities and the villages themselves.
What does SCA do?
Women and people with disabilities are groups that have traditionally not been included in joint decision-making. It is therefore part of the SCA mission to strengthen these groups' participation. Their representation in both self-help groups and development councils is important as these bodies must reflect society at large.
In order to achieve the required change, efforts have been coordinated in several areas. In villages, development councils and organizations receive support from SCA to plan and budget for their work, as well as support in arguing for their rights against the decision-makers.
Staff in local authorities receive basic computer training in order to carry out their work more effectively. This training has been very much appreciated and authorities have requested an extension.
We support and help the formation of local councils known as shuras. They provide the opportunity to influence and participate in decisions concerning the village's future, for groups that are usually excluded too. SCA supplies advice on project management training, gender equality and conflict resolution, as well as on human rights and legal issues. The councils are elected by the relevant villages.
Infrastructure a precondition for development
In order to fulfil the enormous needs for, for example, clean water, school buildings and other community facilities in rural areas, development councils implement development projects every year. Together with SCA they discuss and determine priorities. Representation in these councils must be broadly-based and inclusive. The more than 300 projects implemented in 2015 included hydroelectric power, drinking water wells, pipelines, roads, walls and irrigation. Villages were connected by paths. These create interfaces that are important for both social and economic development.
An evaluation of both local control and the opportunities for sustainable self-sufficiency was undertaken by SCA in 2015 in the form of an evaluation of the capacity of local authorities in the Samangan and Balkh Provinces. Shortcomings were revealed in follow-up, good governance, transparency and management. In order to address these problems, SCA initiated work to strengthen the capacity of the district governors' organizations.
SCA is aware that local health councils are weak in the areas in which it is responsible for health care. Generally, women and people with disabilities are underrepresented, and the councils can often neither lobby the authorities nor initiate long-term development in their areas. In 2015, 20 health councils were trained and given support for their planning.
Activities that lead to change
In addition to development councils implementing projects that improve people's lives, they also create jobs. Better, more secure incomes exert a ripple effect and opportunities for independence open up. One important effect of these local projects is that they encourage people to other joint efforts and thus empower them to take ownership of their own development. SCA has also found that health council projects have become more efficient and better quality over time – they have simply got better at what they do!
SCA and other organizations have, for many years, worked with traditional information and training, but also endeavoured to become more visible in local media. We can see that awareness of children's rights has increased, albeit slowly. There are examples of local authorities that are now closer to meeting their obligations, for example by taking over responsibility for clinics for physiotherapy or by hiring more staff for rehabilitation clinics. There is also progress in integrating children with disabilities into schools run by the state.
Challenges and problems
Conflicts and the poor security situation have affected Ghazni Province very severely which has affected opportunities for follow-up. The Taliban have successfully taken control of the districts so SCA had to cancel a number of planned meetings and workshops, which would have covered the importance of participation in local decision-making.
This has been of particular concern in areas where SCA conducts its work in the National Solidarity Programme. The Taliban regard this programme as a government initiative aimed at strengthening the government rather than local communities. One example of the consequences of this is that SCA was forced to relocate several inputs and cancel their cooperation with 109 village councils in the Jaghato District in the Wardak Province, and with 12 village councils in Dar-e Suf in Samangan.