Hello! It has been a little while, but I’m gearing up to hit the trail again…and I’m headed back to Afghanistan! Yup. For realz. And this time around I’m going to try something a little different. Many of you suggested/asked if I would start a blog about my travels, so I’m going to give this a try. Depending on my available free time for writing as well as my Internet connection for posting, I will do my best to post more travel adventures and descriptions of my trip to this new blog. I hope you enjoy it!
So Why Am I Returning to Afghanistan?
Glad you asked! My organization is running a large civil society project in Afghanistan called the Initiative to Promote Afghan Civil Society. The purpose of this project is to help build up the ability of Afghan civil society organizations (such as NGOs and nonprofits) to provide services to their constituents and to help Afghan citizens understand the purpose of civil society organizations, to problem solve within their communities, and to advocate for good governance. You can read more about IPACS here.
Gender is a big focus within the IPACS program, both in the form of support to women’s empowerment and gender equality initiatives and in the form of a focus on what in development is called “gender integration” or “gender mainstreaming.” Gender integration is the process of paying attention to the ways in which men, women, boys, and girls have different rights, roles, responsibilities, and access to resources and how those different gender roles affect their lives as well as their ability to benefit from our development programs and participate in the improvement of their communities. Paying attention to these differences is about including everyone in the development process — making sure that all members of a community are consulted and invited to participate, not just those who are most visible, the most vocal, or who traditionally hold the most power.
I’m returning to IPACS to follow up with the gender team and the project staff on some projects we began in December 2012. My role is to help the IPACS staff understand and address gender more deeply throughout the program so that they can improve their practice of gender integration. Although some of the NGOs we work with are focused specifically on women’s rights and women’s empowerment, many of them are just focused on human rights, democracy-building, and good governance. But those programs need to think about gender, too, because a lot of times they only have men around the table and never think about the ways in which men and women are affected differently by those issues. When an organization doesn’t specifically focus on women’s issues, they often neglect to include women as participants and organizers, they don’t consider women who could be affected by laws and government programs, and they don’t think about the ways their activities/projects affect men and women in differing ways. So my job is to help them bring that awareness more deeply into their work.
This time around, I’ll be working in cooperation with another gender consultant who is coming in to work on a couple of specific tasks. There are some things she and I will tackle together and then we both also have individual assignments — part of what I’m specifically working on is a systemic process to help the IPACS staff teach gender integration and provide support to our NGO partners. We want them to be able to pass along their learning to the more than 300 organizations throughout Afghanistan that are a part of the program.
A Little About Where I’ll Be
- Afghanistan is a landlocked country sharing borders with Iran, Pakistan, Uzbekistan, Turkmenistan, Tajikistan and China
- I will be staying in Kabul, the capitol. It is the largest city in Afghanistan and very crowded!
- There is a 8.5 hour time difference (now that we’re on daylight savings) between the east coast and Afghanistan. No one has been able to give me a clear answer about why there’s the extra half hour, so I don’t really know why that is besides geographical location. (Iran, by the way, also does the half hour thing — they are 7.5 hours ahead). So, just remember that when it is 8am in South Carolina, it is 4:30pm in Kabul!
- The official languages spoken in Afghanistan are Pashto and Dari. Other languages also spoken in the country are Uzbek, Turkmen, Balochi, Pashayi, and Nuristani. So obviously I’ll be working with translators, although most of the Afghans who work in the NGO industry, including our staff, have learned English.
- The official currency of Afghanistan is Afghani (everyone calls them “Afs”). However, we pay for most things in dollars, and Kabul is entirely a cash economy — no use for credit cards there. Afs are really only useful if you want to make small purchases. Sometimes, though, it is better to pay in Afs because you get a better price. In converting the price to dollars, they’re always going to round up.
- I will have internet access (although we’ll see how steady it is), so I will be available on email.
- I will be able to send chat messages and make phone calls through Skype.
I’m in the process of trying to figure out what to pack and lucky for me, the weather is changing and getting more spring-like, so I don’t have to cram bulky sweaters and long underwear into my bag for this trip. But I’m also trying to pack light and be efficient…hmmmm…wish me luck!