Tag Archives: participation

UNDP and Religious Leaders Promote Women in Sport and Education in Afghanistan

Changing minds about girls playing sports in Afghanistan takes the support of religious leaders – and they are starting to get on board.

Mullahs trained by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) in Afghanistan are preaching about women’s rights and have conducted workshops on girls’ education, child marriage and violence against women that have reached thousands of people and are slowly changing attitudes.

“At first, the villagers were really annoying, telling me that a girl in sports clothes is against Islam and our culture,” says 18-year-old Masooma, who just wanted to go skiing. “They said, ‘Girls don’t have the right to ski – only boys can do sport. Girls are born to learn household chores, like cooking and cleaning.’”

UNDP Afghanistan trained more than 400 mullahs across the country to preach about women’s rights in Friday prayers. Abdul Rahman Redwani is one of the mullahs who started incorporating these issues into his sermons after the training. “Previously, local people didn’t let their girls learn how to read or write,” he recalls. “When girls went skiing the for first time, people gossiped that they were too westernized. But our Friday sermons helped change their minds.”

“Now a lot of girls and women come to watch us ski,” smiles Masooma, “which was not possible a few years back. This motivates me and encourages other girls to start skiing.”

Read the entire story here.

No, I’m not involved in this project. But I would love to read all I can about it, and support it however I can, because leveraging the cultural and religious beliefs can be a great strategy for encouraging women’s equality – something I learned in Afghanistan as well. Back in 2007, when I put together a workshop on to help my Afghan co-workers in Kabul feel more comfortable speaking in public, I did a lot of research, and learned that women speakers, teachers and leaders have always been important in Muslim society, including in Afghanistan. So I put this into my training, talking about the public speaking and leadership roles of Khadija, first wife of the Prophet, Aisha, the favored wife of Muhammad, and Muhammad’s daughters, as well as Rabia Balkhi, a poet of Afghanistan and Razia, a Muslim woman ruler of 13th-century India.

Read more about what I did in Afghanistan as a part of UNDP (and what I’ve done for the country since)

When “participatory” & “consultation” are just words

social cohesionWhen you work in humanitarian initiatives in other countries, whether your project concerns water or HIV/AIDS or maternal health or vaccines or bridge construction or government web sites or whatever, your nonprofit headquarters and your donors will emphasize over and over that you must employ ways for the local people to participate in decision-making.1,2

Yet, too often participatory decision-making doesn’t happen in developed countries, by the governments that fund overseas initiatives and demand details about how participatory decision-making was assured.

The backlash against the European Commission (the government of the European Union), manifested most recently by Brexit and the Belgian region of Wallonia rejecting a long-planned free trade pact between the EU and Canada3, are great examples of lack of participatory decision-making.

So is the anger in Portland, Oregon regarding the new contract with Portland Police Department4, 5

And so is the anger and protests regarding the Dakota Access Pipeline. The pipeline is being built by Texas-based Energy Transfer Partners and will transport as many as 570,000 barrels of crude oil daily from North Dakota to Illinois. The Midwest Alliance for Infrastructure Now, a group that supports the pipeline, says 100% of the affected landowners in North Dakota, where part of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe lives, voluntarily signed easements to allow for construction, and the Army Corps of Engineers, the consulting agency for the project, has a list of dates it said it contacted the tribe, or tried to and never heard back.6, 7 In addition, government officials believe they have followed the consultation process promoted by the President’s office in 2010.8

But the Seattle Times says “Environmental documents filed by the company show that during its permit application the tribe was not even listed in the entities consulted during a piecemeal, fast-track review of the project by the Corps. Company contractors contacted the county weed board, the Audubon Society, county commissioners and more. But not the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, permitting documents show.” The company has not allowed the tribe’s archaeological experts to review the ground in the path of the pipeline as it comes toward Standing Rock. The tribe’s expert, Tim Mentz Sr., in a review at the invitation of a private landowner, discovered some important artifacts, including stone effigies, burial sites and rare depictions of celestial constellations. The Seattle Times says, “So confident was Energy Transfer Partners that its work would go smoothly, that it started building the pipeline last spring, long before it had all its last permits in hand.”9

There can be no argument that tribes have been historically unable to influence projects that affect them and the land they hold sacred so this feels like just yet another land grab against native people in the USA that will marginalize them and hurt their lives. Sarah Krakoff, a professor at the University of Colorado specializing in American Indian Law and Natural Resources Law, says, “Sometimes what the agencies think of as adequate and with all good intentions do not feel adequate from the tribal side. Either because the process isn’t meaningful to them, it doesn’t accord with their timeframe or decision frame.”

Even when participatory decision-making is emphasized, the actions taken that are supposed to provide ways for lots of different people to influence what’s happening can be just for show; any community activist can tell a story about meticulously capturing the input of a group through a variety of listening exercises, only to have all that feedback utterly ignored in the final plans. I don’t know that this happened in the case of the Dakota Access Pipeline, but I’ve seen it happen overseas in my own humanitarian agency work; it’s infuriating.

And even well-done participatory decision-making isn’t always enough to keep protests at bay: until 2016, the ongoing consultative processes regarding the Malheur National Wildlife Refuge between local people, including ranchers, birders, outdoor enthusiasts, environmentalists, tribal members and others was considered a model for other communities. But that process, including a landmark 2013 agreement, didn’t stop people from far outside the area from using guns and force to invade the refuge, occupy it and cause many thousands of dollars in damage, including to private property and tribal lands.10, 11

On a related note, social media posts the Dakota Access Pipeline are often tagged with #NoDAPL, and slackervism / slactivism abounds, with people posting memes in support of the the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe, or adjusting their Facebook page to show they are at the Standing Rock Indian Reservation when they actually aren’t.12 It’s supposed to somehow create support for the tribe and to confuse law enforcement authorities regarding who is at Standing Rock and who isn’t, but Snopes points out that there’s no record that such has helped at all, including in attracting more “material assistance.”13

Since I’m really not fond of slacktivism, here are ways to REALLY help re: #NoDAPL without leaving your house or coffee shop or wherever you are with Internet and phone access :

(1) Call North Dakota governor Jack Dalrymple at 701-328-2200, leaving a RESPECTFUL, firm message on this subject (I find writing out the statement & reading from it helps me).

(2) Call the White House at (202) 456-1111 or (202) 456-1414 & tell President Obama to rescind the Army Corps of Engineers’ Permit for the Dakota Access Pipeline.

(3) Sign the petition at petitions.whitehouse.gov

(4) Contact the executives of Energy Transfer Partners that are building the pipeline:

Lee Hanse, Executive Vice President
Telephone: (210) 403-6455 or email: Lee.Hanse@energytransfer.com

Glenn Emery, Vice President
Telephone: (210) 403-6762 or email: Glenn.Emery@energytransfer.com

Also see:


  1. Oil workers and oil communities: counterplanning from the commons in Nigeria, Terisa E. Turner 1997
  2. LEFT BEHIND; As Oil Riches Flow, Poor Village Cries Out, New York Times
  3. Wallonia rejects EU ultimatum over Canada free trade deal, EuroNews
  4. Portland City Council approves police contract amid unruly protest, Oregon Live
  5. Why protesters are mad about the police contract, Oregon Live
  6. What to Know About the Dakota Access Pipeline Protests, Time
  7. Tribal Consultation At Heart Of Pipeline Fight, insideenergy.org
  8. Guidance for Implementing E.O. 13175, “Consultation and Coordination with Indian Tribal Governments” , whitehouse.gov
  9. The violent Dakota Access Pipeline protest raged for hours — until this tribal elder stepped in, Seattle Times
  10. Audubon Society of Portland Statement on the Occupation of Malheur National Wildlife Refuge
  11. Beyond the Oregon Protests: The Search for Common Ground, Environment 360, Yale University
  12. Standing Rock Facebook Check-in, CNN
  13. Facebook check-in at Standing Rock, Snopes

Now that you’re awake, Brussels, here are next steps

A fat, middle-aged, politically-left-leaning woman from Kentucky – me –  is not surprised by the anti-European Union vote in the for-now-United Kingdom. I saw this coming. Why didn’t you?

The shock about the vote from “expert” economic policy advisors and political pundits on CNN and the BBC demonstrate shows just how profoundly out of touch they are with the thinking of so many everyday citizens, just like they were in 2005 about France and the Netherlands and how they felt about the EU. I predicted those 2005 results too, by the way. Back in 2005, I sat in Germany each evening after work, listening to all the experts on TV say over and over that there was no way French voters would reject the EU Constitution, and I thought, wow, you are all wrong and I can’t believe you don’t see what’s coming. And when the French rejected that Constitution, as I predicted, those same experts assured the world that the Dutch would approve it, by a wide margin. Again, I shook my head in disbelief at how out-of-touch they were. Three days later, Dutch voters rejected the constitution by 61.6% of voters.

I’m not the brightest bulb in the box, as we say back in my home state. But I listen. I hear. I heard the comments at parties and over lunches. I don’t speak French, or Dutch, or much German, yet I knew what a majority of people were thinking. Why didn’t you?

eu aid volunteersI was involved in creating the virtual volunteering strategy for the EU Aid Volunteers initiative as a consultant. I also was paid by the EU to research and write a paper, Internet-mediated Volunteering in the EU:  Its history, prevalence, and approaches and how it relates to employability and social inclusion, for the ICT4EMPL Future Work project undertaken by the Information Society Unit of the Institute for Prospective Technological Studies at the European Commission’s Joint Research Centre. Yes, I’ve benefitted from the EU. I’m pro EU – I think the common currency and common safety and trade regulations are a great idea. I think the common agreements about human rights are a great idea. While I think the EU needs a lot of reforms, while I think they’ve made a lot of missteps, I’m pro EU. But I also listen – and I hear the backlash.

My biggest problem with the EU is regarding communications: the EU has done a very poor job of communicating to everyday citizens about what’s happening, and why. It’s done a very poor job of making everyday citizens feel a part of the decisions that are being made about their lives. Whether the EU has or has not over-reached is someone else’s blog. I want to talk about just how the EU talks – and listens.

Here’s an example of an EU communications misstep. The flag requirement isn’t really the problem; the way it is communicated, and so easily spun by opponents, is a problem. Here’s another example of an EU misstep, regarding overturning a long-held Germany road rule. It’s these kinds of mistakes, over and over and over again, that have alienated people on the grassroots level. They feel left out. They feel marginalized. The “leave” votes are from people who feel very strongly that their language, their food, their values and even their history are under attack by the EU. I have heard these statements again and again from people in the UK that voted to leave the EU: “We are now in control of our own destiny” and “We’re tired of being talked down to.” You built this sentiment, EU. This is the result of your poor communications.

What now, Brussels? If you want the EU to survive:

  1. The EU must immediately employ the same citizen participatory decision-making in Europe that it demands of projects it funds in the developing world. You must discuss with citizens, not just officials. You must ask for feedback from them and show you have heard that feedback. You do a great job with social media. EU agencies and representatives are awesome on Twitter and Facebook. And that’s probably part of the reason people under 50 in the UK voted to stay in the EU. But, Brussels, you do a lousy job at traditional communications methods, and that’s part of the reason people 50 and over voted to leave. Traditional communications methods: lots interviews on TV, including on morning shows and other high-visibility talk shows. Interviews on the radio and local publications. Take your message directly to the citizenry, and get your feedback directly from them. Then show you are listening – talk about what you are hearing, even if you don’t like what you’re hearing. Say loudly when you have altered something because of the feedback of citizens.
  2. You must celebrate the culture and history of individual European countries. You must demonstrate that you honor individual languages and cultural practices and the different values and the different histories of different countries in the EU family. You are going to have to demonstrate that the word multi-cultural includes absolutely everyone – that’s how you get people to embrace that word, by showing that it includes everyone. You are going to have to have individual EU offices integrate that kind of diverse cultural celebration in all of their work. That doesn’t mean compromising on the standards of, say human rights. That doesn’t mean appeasing extreme right-wing groups. It does mean not freaking out that people want to say “I am French” or “I am Dutch” or “I am English” instead of “I am part of the EU.” I am a Kentuckian. I am a citizen of the USA. I am a citizen of the world. I am not a citizen of NAFTA. I’m no fan of David Cameron, but his comment that “It should be nation states wherever possible and Europe only where necessary” spoke to a lot of people’s hearts – not just right wing nationalists, but also many people who are proud of their heritage but don’t want to force it on anyone else. Ethnic, cultural and gender identifiers are each very personal, precious things, and people, even a left winger like me, are possessive of how they identify and want to be identified. That’s something to keep in mind if you work with… well, people. Nationalism doesn’t have to mean segmentation or segregation. It doesn’t have to mean walls. It can mean, “We’re having an Irish music festival and EVERYONE is welcomed!” It can mean there will be a French cheese festival in a small town in Germany and EVERYONE is welcomed to come try some and buy some (lawdy knows I did when I lived in that small town in Germany…).
  3. Talk about the people of Europe for whom life isn’t going well. Talk about what everyday Greek citizens went through – and are still going through – because of austerity. Show them sympathy. Show them compassion. Say why, ultimately, and clearly, their life will be better because of your economic reforms.
  4. Regularly talk about the benefits of EU membership for everyday people. Show it, in statistics and stories. Sell the ideal every day for ordinary citizens. Don’t just assume people know.

You can survive this, EU. But you are going to have to change how you communicate, quickly!!

Has the Internet democratized engagement?

This week, I’m going to blog and launch new web resources based on my experience as the Duvall Leader in Residence at the University of Kentucky’s Center for Leadership Development (CFLD), part of UK’s College of Agriculture,Food and Environment. My visit was sponsored by the W. Norris Duvall Leadership Endowment Fund and the CFLD, and focused on leadership development and community development and engagement as both relate to the use of online media.

First up for discussion: Democratizing Engagement. Specifically: has the Internet democratized community, even political, engagement? To democratize something is to make it accessible “to the masses.” So, my answer during the presentation in Lexington at the Plantory, to launch discussion in Lexington, was, “Yes… and no.”

On the “yes” side:

  • People can access information they need most, like weather forecasts, communicate with people remotely, even bank and community organize, through text messaging on a simple cell phone. This has been revolutionary for people in the developing world.
  • People with even more sophisticated tools, like laptops and smart phones, can do even more, like access pension information, journalism-based media sites, business information, etc., apply for college or jobs, even run entire organizations and undertake a remote career.
  • Even before smart phones, when cell phones were becoming popular in the developing world, text messaging played a key role in political movements in the Philippines, in helping AIDS patients in Africa remember to take meds, and in appropriate amounts, etc. See this paper from October 2001 for more on these early examples. Handheld, networked devices continue to play important role in political movements.

On the “no” side:

  • Social media has been instrumental in reviving incorrect and, sometimes, dangerous folklore that interferes with humanitarian efforts, government health initiatives, etc.
    Negative consequences for the opinion-sharer.
  • Government and corporate entities are monitoring and recording users’ online activities and sometimes using the information they find against citizens/consumers to curb their rights or voice.
  • Many web sites cannot be accessed by people without the absolute very latest, most advanced laptops and smart phone.
  • The Internet has never been slower.
  • People with disabilities are often excluded from being able to access Web-based resources – the site isn’t configured for people using assistive technologies, an online video has no subtitles, etc.
  • Not every organization is developing online tools for people who use only feature phones and text messaging, and that leaves out millions of people who don’t have smart phones.
  • Not everyone is on the Internet.

And I’ll add one more to the “no” list: many people are made to feel unwelcomed online, to the point of their being threatened with violence if they don’t refrain from saying certain things or even being online altogether. #gamergate is a good example of this. Also see this blog, Virtue & reputation in the developing world.

Even with all that said, and the “no” list being so much longer than the “yes” list, I said that the Internet is playing a role in democratizing information for everyone, but it’s got a long way to go.

What do YOU think? Share your thoughts in the comments section.

(and I have to note that my favorite moment of the evening was when we went around the room to ask why people had come and if they got what they wanted out of the evening. One of the attendees said that, in fact, she was in the wrong room – she had come for something else – but once I started talking, she was so interested in the topic that she stayed!)