The Big Picture 2


A Meeting with Various Members of Female Shuras in Herat April 27 2012 | Photo by Mateja Zupancic

A Meeting with Various Members of Female Shuras in Herat
April 27 2012 | Photo by Mateja Zupancic

Who is a local monitor and what characteristics does he have? He is a well-respected member of the community, honest, literate, and physically able to travel. And in more than 97% of the cases he is a man.

It has been repeatedly stated that, “It is too early for women in Afghanistan…” “They are not ready yet” or “You know, it takes time!” We say: “12 years is enough!”

Monitoring as many other ‘outside home’ activities in Afghanistan is male-dominated. In Mazar-e-Sharif however, six women successfully monitor infrastructure projects, such as schools. In other provinces, females are not actively recruited, other than one or two female local monitors. But in Mazar, due to the effort of the focal point who reached out to women’s Civil Society Organizations and schools, they were able to recruit six. It did not take more than a little bit of initiative. More women should become local monitors and this case study explores the women in Integrity Watch’s Community Based Monitoring (CBM) program who ‘made it,’ providing encouraging examples for a more equitable future for female engagement in monitoring.

2-GenderStats 3-Gender_MapIt might be difficult to recruit women in Afghanistan, but it is not impossible.

In fact, in interviews with current female and male local monitors revealed positive views on a female involvement in CBM. Wrong and unjustified assumptions on the ability of women to participate leads to a status quo that hampers transformations in power relations between men and women. It also hinders the ability of ALL people to become citizens.

Why should women monitor? The aim of monitoring is to improve the project so what difference does it make to have more women as local monitors? It does make a difference. Monitoring of construction projects has a broader goal than the bare construction of a high quality building. When people take initiative for the improvement of a project they act like citizens who are concerned with the improvement of their society. From passive aid recipients they become active state citizens. However, not only men are citizens! Citizenship and ownership should also be instilled in women. One local monitor was very explicit why women should monitor:


It is not enough that husbands or fathers speak (or monitor) instead of their women, since women’s voices are delegitimized; women and men should both be concerned with issues of communal responsibility and transparency. And the right to monitor is not only a man’s right!

Also participation in project monitoring should bring some ‘genuine’ transformation, which means it should address the power relations, not only between the community and other stakeholders involved in the project but also between men and women. Organizations that are involved in monitoring can erroneously assume that it is not part of their work to tackle power inequalities between men and women. Even though change in power relations might not be on the agenda, it should become a ‘by-product’ of it. Put it simply: “Why not killing two birds with a stone?” Participation in monitoring has the potential to empower women at the personal, household and community level. A female local monitor that was already an active member of the society commented about monitoring:

5-Quote2Monitoring can also change the male perceptions of women. A woman working outside the house becomes an example for other women and she can encourage them to take similar initiatives.

Accountable2men It seems that accountability demands pertain just to men. Women also want accountability!

Why is female participation in monitoring limited in Afghanistan?  Afghanistan is a traditional and sexually segregated society. Since construction sites are male-dominated, women entering a building under construction could be easily perceived as ‘bad women’.  There are also many wrong perceptions about women as being physically weak, illiterate and lacking knowledge on construction issues besides some allusions to their general intellectual inabilities. It is not uncommon to hear:

6-GenderBiasAny female engagement outside the house generally needs approval from the family.  When the family thinks that venturing outside the house is not safe, female movement and any other activity can be easily constrained.

Perceptions are sometimes wrong! Literacy rates are low in Afghanistan. In the south-eastern provinces female literacy is barely above 1%. However, CBM works in provinces with relatively high rates of female literacy: in Balkh it is 16.8%, Herat 16.4%, Badakshan 11.9 %, Parwan 10.1% and Nangarhar 6.9%.  Therefore there are literate women who can be recruited as local monitors.

Why would a woman be less able to monitor? If a woman, like a man is trained in ‘bricks and cement’ then her understanding will not be inferior to that of a man. There is no need to quote the endless studies that have dismantled the idea men are smarter than women. It is now sufficiently clear that in the past women had some social and not biological constraints for attaining male intellectual levels.

The CBM program works in fairly safe provinces of Afghanistan. The head of the Directorate of Women Affairs said: “In Balkh security is not a problem for women. Sometimes there might be some problems in some districts, but in general it is safe here.” Female members of different shuras in Herat also expressed little concern regarding the security in the province.

A woman’s reputation can be easily harmed if women enter men’s spaces. However, people quickly realize that a woman entering the male-dominated construction sites asking questions and taking notes on the building’s progress is there to serve her community.

Female local monitors have a positive monitoring experience. Despite some occasional harassment that men also face, female local monitors are generally satisfied and excited about their work. They gain a sense of responsibility and pride for serving their country. Dealing with contractors, local government officials and attending the local monitors’ meetings where they can raise their voice has a real impact on their lives as citizens who demand for their rights.

7-Quote3Many of them have gained respect from workers, contractors and community members. Their families tend to be very supportive. In general, female local monitors are committed and active women who care about the future of their country.

The advantages of having female local monitors. Although people might think only about the disadvantages of having female local monitors, there are some positive aspects for recruiting females that can benefit the CBM program. Since local monitors should conduct the baseline and endline surveys  recruiting women would give an easy access to the female beneficiaries of the project. Not having women as local monitors can obstruct the surveying of women and therefore biasing the survey results. Not only men are beneficiaries of the infrastructure projects!

A female local monitor from Herat also explained that women are not entangled in various kinship issues, which guarantees a kind of neutrality while monitoring. Mature and older women are also perceived as mothers, which can facilitate their work and cooperation from the various stakeholders involved in the project.

How to recruit more women in Afghanistan? “Going to the community directly might not be very helpful for recruiting female monitors,” explained a male local monitor from Mazar-e-Sharif, “they will not allow their women to do it.” The same concern was shared from a female employee from the Provincial Council in Nangarhar. Women should ideally be recruited through other means.

There are some differences between recruitment of women in urban and rural areas. In the cities it is easy to recruit women among students, members of civil society, radio or TV stations. In rural areas it can be more difficult, but it is not impossible. Consulting the Directorate of Women’s Affairs can be helpful. At district level there is also a female representative of the Women’s Affairs directorate and NSP has also female shuras. Sometimes asking a mullah or community leader can be helpful. In the villages there are many active women that can become local monitors. It is believed that in rural areas it easier to recruit older and experienced women, like schoolteachers.

It is advisable to mobilize women to recruit more women especially those in women’s shuras, head of Women’s affairs, CSOs, etc. Female local monitors (if any) can also help in getting access to women. Most importantly, ideas on an unchanging and timeless Afghan society should be challenged. Traditions do change with time.

Recruiting female local monitors seems difficult in a traditional and sexually-segregated society.  Addressing the right institutions for recruiting female LMs, like women’s shuras or civil society organizations, can facilitate female ‘conscription.’ Women can and should be recruited in urban and rural areas. Increasing the number of female monitors attracts other women into monitoring since it becomes easier for them to join. As one female local monitor pointed out: “You cannot clap with one hand!”

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