Dedicated to cultivating a culture of tolerance, peace and vertical accountability within Pakistan, Strengthening Participatory Organizations launched the 5 year 'Aawaz Voice and Accountability' initiative for mobilizing participatory projects and critical voice channels in civil society. The project is a joint-venture between citizens, NGOs and many rights based national organizations. The bottom-up institutional structure of the project works to mobilize and amplify voices of the citizens at the level of villages, UCs, Tehsil and district levels through lobbying, awareness raising, capacity-building and policy advocacy. The ultimate end of the project is to establish AAGAHI centres at each union council level to become the locus of participatory activities in each region. Events organized under the campaign include a consultation meeting on local government constitutional protection, regional conferences on local government elections in Punjab and meetings with Commissioner Karachi on a water campaign.
Aawaz has 4 desired outputs:
- Demand the safe participation of women in politics and pubic space
- Enable citizens and communities to resolve disputes among themselves peacefully
- Ensure service delivery for women and marginalized communities, and finally
- Gather evidence and synthesize information on corruption, development and social justice concerns to political leaders
Aawaz interventions occur at different levels of government. Consciousness-raising activities are conducted at the level of villages, tehsils, and districts, whereas institutions such as gender-based legislations, collaboration with political parties/legislators and the Elections Commission of Pakistan is more at the national/provincial level. A complete list of Aawaz’s advocacy agenda can be found here: http://www.spopk.org/spo/index.php/legislative-agenda
Originating Entities and Funding
The project is founded by Strengthening Participatory Organizations (SPO) in Pakistan. SPO’s initiatives to improve democratic governance in Pakistan through a bottom-up approach are driven by three aims:
- Enhance conceptual clarity on rights-based approaches
- Ensure that there is an increased capacity to promote and practice sustainable, transparent and accountable systems within the organization
- Provide political workers with skills training, development knowledge and problem-solving techniques
The ultimate aim of SPO is to enhance the capacity of each community at district levels to self-organize and to demand democratic structures at all levels of governance. Organizations which offer Aawaz managerial and technical support include Sungi Development Foundation, South Asia Partnership, Sustainable Development Policy Institute, Development Alternative Initiatives and Aurat Foundation. The project is funded by UK’s Department for International Development.
Participant Recruitment and Selection
Introduced in May 2012, Aawaz Voice and Accountability seeks to benefit citizens of 45 districts of Punjab and Khyber-Pakhtunkhwa (KP). A map of Aawaz districts can be found here: http://www.spopk.org/spo/index.php/aawaz-districts. In terms of project reach, the group’s target is to facilitate activities, forums and campaigns in 13 districts (8 in Punjab, 5 in KP), 130 Union Councils (10 per district), 2020 villages/settlements (approx.155 in each district) and 435 000 direct beneficiaries. Each forum hosted by Aawaz requires at least 50% representation and participation by women and marginalized groups.
Methods and Tools Used
The project seeks to facilitate forum-style discussions at different levels of government from national, to regional, to village. Funding is dedicated to building local spaces for open expression on everything from politics, to gender equality to human rights issues.
Deliberation, Decisions, and Public Interaction
The project’s forum’s are of 6 different levels:
- Aaawaz National Forum
- Aawaz Provincial forum
- Aawaz District Forum
- Aawaz Tehsil Forum
- Aawaz Taraqiyati Forum
- Aawaz Village/Settlement Forum
The largest two forums, are at a provincial and national level. The national forum is composed of well-known representatives of media, parliament, academia, and civil society organizations based in Islamabad. The selection criteria for this forum is:
- Representatives should be like-minded people from potential allies,
- Directly and relevant institution representatives,
- Inclusiveness (new activists, gender ration),
- Good and strong connections to communities,
- Based in Islamabad
At the smallest level, the forums are composed of 15-18 males, females and minorities from marginalized communities. This tier also includes at least 3 representatives from the School Management, there is little information on what this requirement entails or why it is in place.
The forum spaces host everything from conferences, to workshops, roundtables, to lectures. One example of a conference was hosted by the SPO Lahore Region named “Local Government Elections in Punjab: Issues and Challenges” on March 10th 2015. The event was meant to demand the Election Commission of Punjab to hold free, fair and impartial elections for local government on a party basis as advised by the Supreme Court. Speakers at the conference included SPO Chief of Programs, Opposition Leader, Secretary of Information JUI, Former MNAs, Human Rights Activists, Director of the Aurat Foundation and other experts on regional electoral politics. The speakers at the conference unanimously agreed upon the necessity of the provincial government of Punjab to hold local government elections and give the local government political, financial and administrative powers as noted in Clause 140 of the Constitution.
The audience was asked to participate through a question and answer period.
The research extracted from other tiers of forums on electoral accountability was transformed into a position paper on local government and was presented at this conference. The position paper demanded policymakers and government officials to:
- "Recognize local governments as the ‘Primary Tier’ of governance through a constitutional amendment.
- Determine a timeframe for constituting local governments (for example, within three months of holding general elections) and make provisions to ensure that this schedule is adhered to
- Strengthen the ECP and district Election Commission offices to ensure smooth and impartial organization of elections.
- Ensure representation of women and excluded groups in local government by amending Article 32 of the Constitution accordingly.
- Facilitate the ECP to carry out delimitation of constituencies (in case of Punjab) as soon as possible, or, in case of KP, hold local government elections as soon as possible given that delimitation has taken place.
- Empower local governments through enactment of subordinate legislation to clearly define their functions.”
The audience was asked to participate in the conference through the question and answer period. The audience was composed of 215 individuals (102 men, 112 women and 1 Transgender) from civil society organizations, media, the general public, members of provincial assembly, aawaz partner organization representatives and political party leaders. Of particular note was the attendance by individuals who frequented other forums at lower tiers of district and village levels from Mianwali, Khushab, Gujranwalla, Bahalwpur, Sargodha, Jhang, Mandi bahudin and Okara.
At the end of the conference, Chairman Standing Committee Local Government Abdur Razzaq Dhilu made a formal announcement that local government elections in Punjab will be held shortly, with the creation of new constituencies as per Supreme Court Orders for the sake of democratic accountability.
Information on other forums, conferences of a similar nature and their attendance rates, agendas and results is available for some other events on the official website.
Influence, Outcomes, and Effects
Under this project, there have been many events focused on raising awareness, mobilizing participatory action around locally-identified development issues and bridging the gender gap in political institutions. The group has been successful in engaging not only members of civil society, elites and government officials in conversations on fair and accountable democratic governance, but also, citizens at grassroots level in articulating their needs.
Analysis and Lessons Learned
Though the project is nearing completion, and claims to have accomplished many of its targets, there is little information on its actual results and achievements in detail on its website, reports and publications. Its national and provincial forums seem to be the most realized component. There is a branch of the organization Policy, Analysis, Results and Research (PARR) responsible for monitoring and evaluation, but there is little compiled data. However, the work of SPO as documented in its case studies shows a lot of progress towards inspiring, facilitating and coordinating participatory action on a very local, district level. Another issue is that most of its discussion of participatory social change and democratic governance is in the context of development, as a means for helping individuals meet their own development needs and solve their own problems. It is unclear whether the project is simply focused on raising awareness or is like SPO’s other participatory activities in which citizens are inspired to operationalize their reforms, critiques and ideas. With this said, there are many success stories of the project’s village forums which illustrate how Awaaz forum members have helped individuals, women in particular, in times of domestic and political conflict through mediation, awareness, advocacy and support. A major strength of this campaign is that unlike other rights awareness activities funded by international organizations, this group aims to empower the voices of the local public, in conversation with elite and expert critique on electoral accountability.