Since 2015, the U.S. Agency for International Development (USAID)-funded Promote: Musharikat program has been promoting the meaningful civic participation of Afghan women. To date, more than 7,000 activists and 370 civil society organizations (CSO), across all 34 of Afghanistan’s provinces, have chosen to join DAI-led Musharikat to advance women’s equality and empowerment. By working through coalitions, Musharikat brings together citizen activists, government officials, religious scholars, and a diverse assemblage of CSOs to bolster both the supply and demand for women’s rights in Afghanistan. Though each coalition has a specific mandate, their shared vision of a peaceful, inclusive, and equitable country provides a common cause for action. This mission includes public awareness campaigns, building the capacity of those championing change, and working with government institutions to vigorously enforce and reform laws to fulfill their duty to the nation’s largest underserved constituency—women.
To successfully stitch together the efforts of so many people and organizations, Musharikat launched the Musharikat Knowledge Management Platform (MKMP). The original idea behind MKMP was to provide coalition members with a secure means of collaboration. Using their unique password, members can securely reach out to other members and program staff via chat, email, or video conference. From this initial concept, the platform was further developed into Musharkat’s principal management tool for knowledge, data, and public opinion surveys (online/call center). For instance, the site now hosts a record of national and international laws relevant to the coalitions’ work, archives project documents and training materials, disseminates news and government statistics, and collects discussion forum and survey data to provide Musharikat, coalition members, and USAID with evidence to inform decision-making and guide advocacy campaigns.
Survey of Musharikat Members
As part of Musharikat’s ongoing efforts to improve MKMP’s functionality for members, between April 25 and May 11, 583 members were surveyed about how they are using the site, their access to technology more generally, and their social and traditional media preferences. Significantly, approximately two-thirds of these surveys were collected through Musharikat’s call center, with the remaining third coming directly through the site. It was feared that without such deliberate sampling, responses would be skewed towards the program’s most tech-savvy members that had independently logged-in and self-selected to complete the survey (unlike the members who participated by phone and therefore, may or may not frequent MKMP or even have access to the Internet).
Musharikat Call Center (Photo Credit: Tiffany Tsang)
When asked how often they visit MKMP, most members answered daily (39 percent), followed by monthly (26 percent) and weekly (22 percent). The fact that 87 percent of those surveyed choose to visit the site so regularly is encouraging. It indicates they find MKMP valuable and that the site’s content is updated frequently enough to warrant return visits. Next, members were asked how they originally became aware of MKMP. Almost all members responded that they were informed by Musharikat staff (45 percent) or heard about it at a Musharikat event (43 percent). This illustrates how thoroughly MKMP is integrated throughout the program’s culture and activities. It is not an online-only initiative but is actively promoted by staff at programmatic activities across the country, creating a virtuous circle of member engagement.
While anyone can visit MKMP’s homepage, to view and contribute to all other parts of the site, an approved login is required. This process was established due to Afghanistan’s security issues and because of the political sensitivity of topics discussed on the site such as women’s rights, elections, and gender-based violence. It did not come as a surprise, therefore, that when members ranked the importance of the site being a closed network on a scale from 1-5 (with 1 being unimportant and 5 being very important) that over half responded with a five (53 percent), followed by a four (21 percent) and a three (16 percent). While there are countless online networks where people can share opinions and connect with like-minded individuals, there are few places where Afghan activists can speak freely without fear of reprisals.
Access to Technology
As for how and where members are accessing MKMP, the vast majority said with a smartphone (86 percent). This was followed by laptop (10 percent) and desktop computers (4 percent). Members said they most often log in at home (67 percent), with the remaining logins occurring at work (33 percent). (An additional benefit of the site being a closed network is that members’ bosses are unlikely to catch them posting on MKMP instead of working!) Musharikat anticipated that most members were using smartphones to access the site, but this serves as an important reminder to ensure all site content is easily accessible by smartphones. A point further corroborated by almost all respondents (95 percent) saying they have a smartphone, though we can assume that some of these phones are a shared resource among family members and not the sole property of each individual surveyed.
Social and Traditional Media Preferences
Facebook (70 percent) was found to be members’ preferred social media platform. “Other” received the second-highest number of votes, beating out Instagram (7 percent), Twitter (4 percent), and TikTok (0 percent). In terms of traditional media, TV was the most popular with 92 percent of respondents saying they watch TV, followed by 72 percent who listen to the radio, and 70 percent who read newspapers. At first glance, these findings seem to point in favor of conducting more advocacy and awareness-raising through TV, but when the much higher cost of TV time is compared against that of radio, Musharikat’s choice of radio as its preferred outreach medium appears sound. Moreover, the program often generates free, earned media, across all mediums, by implementing timely, newsworthy programmatic events.
As should now be clear, MKMP is an invaluable resource to help Musharikat and USAID responsively adapt as realities on the ground in Afghanistan shift. With insurgents and COVID-19 making in-person activities increasingly difficult, MKMP is the right tool at the right time to help safeguard the rights of Afghan women.