Working with rural women and operational implications
The situation of women in Afghanistan is not easy. Therefore, the targeting of women requires a special attention. During the first part of the day participants discussed their experiences in working with rural women and targeting.
IFAD often targets women who are the head of their family. “A woman might be responsible for the income of her family but might not be the head of the family”, said Javed Rizvi from ICARDA. Another issue brought up relates to women who are officially married but do not get the deserving treatment from their husbands. Some times, a rural man has three or four wives who he abandoned for various reasons. These women are very poor and in many microfinance programmes their participation is the highest. “It is only the community who can tell you who is really poor,” Javed pointed out.
At the beginning of their operations in Afghanistan, BRAC staff (men and women) were not allowed to see women without having permission from their village head. “Once the leaders are convinced about our programme, they let us in,” said Fazlul Hoque from BRAC-Afghanistan. It takes a lot of effort to convince village leaders about programme benefits. “We have to depend on village elders to get information,” he pointed out. To address this issue, all BRAC staff are recruited locally – from the area where their programme operates. It is convenient in terms of language and acceptability. The problem is that lack of basic education discourages women from applying for the programme.
It is a challenge to find a well-qualified female staff. ICARDA’s approach to the problem is that it identifies two women in each village who are either well-educated or have experience in working in development programmes. When going to talk to women, they are accompanied by two men so they can easily enter other villages and reach local women. However, the situation of women is very location specific in Afghanistan. “In some villages, men cannot enter a village to talk to women, only a woman,” said Javed Rizvi from ICARDA. It is therefore important to rely on female activists in each village, who are receiving a small compensation from the project. “If something happens we know,” he pointed out. Rather than depending on a single source of information, BRAC has a network of people with whom it communicates. FAO tried to recruit female activists in villages but it was a difficult experience as their salaries could not be paid after completion.
In other cases, women are not interested to work in development programmes because they want to stay in their province or their families simply do not allow them. “Programme staff should talk to as many households as possible to improve their understanding about the benefits of programme activities. It is also important for programme staff to understand the capacities of people,” said Mohammad Ibrahimi, Livestock Specialist from the Rural Microfinance and Livestock Support Programme.
To be able to reach rural women, it is necessary to respect the local culture. “In villages, ICARDA staff don’t talk about irrelevant subjects like politics but only about the programme,” added Javed Rizvi. When recruiting a local woman for a development programme, her family must be involved and her terms of reference should be discussed and agreed on with the brother and father. Working with locals is a gradual confidence building.
FAO is putting a lot of effort, time and resources to train local people. “The more our programme advances, the easier it is for us to reach other places where we haven’t been before,” said Tek Thapa from FAO, Afghanistan. In Afghanistan, FAO concentrates more on outputs rather than outcomes since it is easier and talking about politics is avoided. “Going slow is important, otherwise there are chances of failures,” added Olaf Thieme from FAO, Rome.
Shankar Kutty had a discussion with the PCU and service providers during which they tried to ‘iron out’ some of the issues of financial management and requirements of the programme. This resulted in some need for further clarification from service providers with regard to the requirements of the Government of Afghanistan. According to the service providers, the processes of the Ministry of Finance should be strengthened to avoid the many delays in fund releases. After the discussion, Shankar proceeded by responding to questions from the services providers and the PCU. In the afternoon we were able to resume the training in loan administration and financial management of the programme with the PCU account.
The day ended with presentations by Martina Spisiakova from IFAD on knowledge management (KM). Martina started by explaining the basic concepts so that everybody understands what we mean by KM and knowledge, and then by giving an overview of KM in IFAD. Martina stressed that KM should be integrated in all programme’s processes including the monitoring and evaluation (M&E). M&E creates a large amount of information and the outputs that highlight programme progress are based on M&E. This is the reason why the information generated by M&E needs to be managed so that the findings and lessons learned can be disseminated, contribute to improved processes and systems and inform strategic decision-making in the future. Martina introduced the Knowledge Value Chain Approach to explain how value can be added to the knowledge generated in the context of programme activities and how critical reflection can help to assess programme outcomes. This and much more was covered in the presentation on linking KM to M&E.
IFAD’s corporate information system (Xdesk) and the Project Life File (PLF) was also presented showing the programme staff how to upload documents directly from the field, participate in team discussions and find information. Afghanistan will be the first country for which field staff will be sharing information through the PLF. Other stakeholders will be able to view this information. The Afghanistan programme has a privilege of having a Knowledge Management Officer (KMO) – Jawaid Samadey.
Concrete suggestions were made about how the programme staff should manage information and knowledge coming out of its activities, draw lessons from successes and failure, package and disseminate them to key people. During this workshop we also worked with Jawaid and others to outline the learning agenda (e.g. documenting the experiences of working with rural women) as well as concrete steps to developing a KM approach for the programme.
Matthew Robinson, Finance Director, Microfinance Investment Support Facility Afghanistan (MISFA) talks about how microfinance works in conflict areas and related challenges.
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Fazlul Hoque, Country Programme Head, BRAC-Afghanistan, talks about women and microfinance in Afghanistan.
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Working with rural women and operational implications