Currently viewing blog-posts :

Remove filter

August 27th 2013

Visit to London of the Minister for Women’s Affairs of Afghanistan

Advocacy International was honoured to organise the December 2010 visit to London of the Minister of Women’s Affairs in the Afghan Government, Dr Husn Banu Ghazanfar. Dr Ghazanfar was joined by her team made up of Ms Habibi Director, MOWA, Mr Zabi, translator, and Mrs Sharmistha Barwa of UNDP.

Dr Husn Banu Ghazanfar and her team were keen to raise the profile in the UK of the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA), its objectives and work. This was achieved by briefing the media, British Government Ministers and Shadow Cabinet members, think-tanks and NGOs on the work of priorities of MOWA.

Dr Ghazanfar was able to outline the achievements of her Ministry for Women’s Affairs in Kabul. Dr. Ghazanfar is proud of the 37% increase in girls attending school since her Ministry was formed in 2001, and of the 25% ratio of women in the Afghan Parliament – higher than in Britain, where women make up 22% of the UK Parliament.

Finally, the Hon. Minister was keen to discuss the challenges and concerns faced by MOWA with influential decision makers and opinion-formers in London.

Baroness Sayeeda WarsiThe Rt Hon Baroness Warsi, Conservative Party’s co-chairman and minister without portfolio

Meeting with Baroness Sayeeda Warsi and Baroness Sandip VermaDr Ghazanfar meets with Baroness Sandip Verma, Government Whip and Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, the Department of International Development and Equalities and Women’s Issues.

To ensure that the Hon. Minister was given the fullest opportunity to present the work and goals of MOWA, the Ai team arranged meetings with the Rt. Hon Baroness Sayeeda Warsi, the Conservative Party’s co-chairman and minister without portfolio. Baroness Warsi is the first Muslim woman to serve in a British Cabinet.

A meeting was also arranged with Baroness Sandip Verma, a member of the House of Lords, and currently a Government Whip and Spokesperson for the Cabinet Office, the Department of International Development and Equalities and Women’s Issues.

Ai also arranged meetings with Opposition Ministers with similar responsibilities; Parliamentary and committee members; the Foreign and Commonwealth Office (FCO); the media (the BBC; the Financial Times and The Guardian); a think-tank (Chatham House); universities in both London and Oxford; and the Executive Director of an NGO in Oxford (OXFAM).

Therefore, during the short visit, the Hon. Minister and her delegation were given the opportunity to brief a broad spectrum of British governmental, parliamentary and media decision-makers and opinion-formers.

The team also arranged for the media and think-tanks to be briefed on the work of Islamic women in Afghanistan, working on a non-governmental basis. These were represented by Mrs Daisy Khan, Director of the Women’s Islamic Initiative in Spirituality and Equality (WISE) and of the American Society for Muslim Advancement (ASMA). Mrs Khan attended some meetings during the first two days of the Minister’s visit to London, and provided a briefing to journalists and others on the work undertaken by WISE members in Kabul.

During briefings to think-tanks, journalists and NGOs Dr Ghazanfar was able to outline the achievements of MOWA over the last 9 years. These included:

  • The preparation of the National Action Plan for Women of Afghanistan (NAPWA) launched at the London Conference in January 2010 and followed up at the Kabul Conference in July, 2010.
  • Gender mainstreaming – $3 Million earmarked for gender mainstreaming over 3 years.
  • The education of girls and young women has risen from almost 0% to 37% since the Ministry was established in 2001 . Young women now make up 18% of university students.
  • Women in Afghanistan now make up 5% of security organisation employees. MOWA aims to raise this proportion to 30% within the next 8 years.
  • There are now 3 female Ministers in the Afghan Cabinet – an achievement in itself.
  • MOWA have been working (with UNDP) to develop a databank on Violence Against Women (VAW) with the aim of collecting reliable evidence on VAW so that they will be better placed to take strategic action to prevent widespread atrocities against women.

All of these developments were recognised as important steps. However, it was noted that all these positive developments need first, to be protected:

“work on women’s rights must not move backwards”

and second, built upon. Capacity-building for women politicians at all levels of the political process was mentioned as particularly important.

During the higher-level political meeting with Baroness Warsi there was dialogue around the need for peace negotiations to be undertaken on the basis of the Afghan Constitution. Baroness Warsi shared the UK government’s own draft action plan on Afghanistan and asked for feedback from MOWA and UNDP.

Homa Khaleeli of the Guardian drew on Minister Ghazanfar’s statements in her comprehensive article ‘Afghan women fear for the future’ published on Friday 4th February.


Khaleeli raised the point that although Afghan women’s rights were a prominent part of the rhetoric of the invasion of Afghanistan, today “the treatment of women under the Taliban is increasingly being dismissed as part of local culture”. She went on:

“Deniz Kandiyoti of the School of Oriental and African Studies’ gender studies department disputes these claims that the culture is to blame. “These people have been tossed to the wind and displaced, the old society has been eroded. Girls being given away to pay for opium debts, that’s hardly traditional. Now it is the people with the guns, the money, and the drugs runners who have power,” she says.

Today, according to Zainab Salbi, who has testified before the US senate, there is little appetite among US politicians for protecting women in the region, despite support from the US secretary of state, Hillary Clinton. Instead, she says:

“There is a clear, clear opinion that women’s rights were a) not that relevant and b) irreconcilable with peace in Afghanistan.”

mowa-thumb2Government girls school in Banyam. The education of girls and young women has risen from almost 0% to 37% since MOWA was established in 2001. Photograph: Canada in Afghanistan

Khaleeli goes on:

“Few would argue that improvements have been made in women’s rights in the last decade. On a recent visit to the UK, Hussan Ghazanfar, Afghanistan’s minister for women’s affairs, outlined the progress made: 57% of women and girls now go to school, and 24% of health sector workers and 10% of the judiciary are female.

Yet activists say improvements are patchy and far from ideal – with healthcare, social care and freedom unavailable to many poverty-stricken rural women, many already living in Taliban-controlled areas. Even Ghazanfar admits: “Life is different in the countryside – the literacy level is different, traditional customs are stronger, and women have no financial or economic freedom there.”

Hamidi says most women she speaks to “are tired of war and killing”, and fearful of the future. “If the situation goes bad again the women here have nowhere to go.”

Dr Ghazanfar’s visit resulted in the voice of MOWA being heard in the British media, but also amongst high-level opinion formers and decision makers.



October 20th 2012

The Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation

As part of his ongoing work as a founder of United Cities and Local Governments (UCLG), Ai Director Jeremy Smith was invited by the City of Guangzhou and its mayor, Mr Chen Jianhua, to serve on a technical committee that shortlisted cities excelling in urban innovation.  The first edition of the Guangzhou Award for Urban Innovation was held in October-November 2012 to  highlight five very different cities around the world, facing very different challenges.

Guangzhou (population 16 million, once known as Canton) is one of China’s top five cities, in the increasingly prosperous southern province of Guangdong.  The city’s GDP has increased at a rate of around 13% per year over the last 6 years. Guangzhou is now focusing much more on ‘next generation’ industries, and lays much greater emphasis on environmental sustainability and on green energy use.  In short, it wants to be recognized as a leading and progressive world city.

As a member of the Technical Committee, Jeremy evaluated some 250 initiatives from 150 cities in 56 countries.  The Committee had met in October to winnow the submissions down first to a longlist of 45, then a shortlist of 15 really exciting and stimulating entries.  An international jury of five academic experts made the final decisions. On this second visit Mr. Smith was also asked to chair a presentation session by ‘candidate’ cities on urban governance and administration.

The Committee examined factors such as importance of subject-matter, impact, replicability etc.  It also took into account the socio-economic situation of each city, as the context differs so widely between regions, countries and cities.

The final Award workshops and ceremony coincided with a meeting of the global large cities network, Metropolis, and also had the support of the international association United Cities and Local Governments(UCLG) which Mr. Smith had helped to create a decade ago.  Guangzhou also invited its Sister Cities to attend, so it was a truly international gathering from every continent.

All fifteen shortlisted cities were invited to attend and present their initiatives in a special workshop; in the event the representatives from Medellin, Colombia, were unable to attend and present their ‘Digital Medellin’ project, but the 14 others were all able to take part.  Each made a presentation to the group and audience for 8 minutes (sharp!) followed by questions, which helped to broaden people’s awareness and understanding.

The Awards Ceremony was held in November at the Opera House designed by Iraqi-British architect Zaha Hadid, and included a colourful cultural display by leading Chinese dancers, acrobats and singers.  The Award was given to these five cities:

  • Seoul (South Korea) – for its social programmes for young people: teenage prostitution and internet addiction
  • Vienna (Austria) – for its programme to welcome and initiate new migrants to the city
  • Kocaeli (Turkey) – for its earthquake preparation programme, with education, theatre and monitoring
  • Lilongwe (Malawi) – for its city strategy based on a new mentoring programme with Johannesburg

There were many other initiatives and projects worthy of note.  For example, the ‘Green Line’ initiative from Aguascalientes in Mexico. This involved a physical dimension, by building a long (12 km) thin park along and over a petrol pipeline, which had previously been the dividing line between the richer and poorer parts of the city.  But it was also a metaphor for a major social programme across the city.

Or take the Taiwan port city of Kaohsiung, which has initiated a 24 hour one-stop free phone service (dial 1999) for citizens, linked to all key departments who have to respond rapidly to issues raised.

Or again the city of Dakar, Senegal, with its use of more traditional paving stones for road surfacing, which – in a sandy soil – are far more permeable than normal modern tarmac, and which allows water to seep through rather than cause flooding… whilst also enabling local young people to be trained and do the job more cheaply than through normal road-building procurement processes.

Guangzhou aims to organise the Award every two years.  Ai sincerely hopes that this imaginative initiative takes root, and fulfils its goal of helping cities around the world to learn from each other more and more.  The city has used its membership of Metropolis and UCLG to promote the Award and reach a wider audience.  It fully met its commitment to respect the independence of the Technical Committee and Jury in reaching their decisions.

In return, Guangzhou will also benefit – not only from learning from other global cities, but by opening the eyes of far more people to the huge progress (not just economic) the city has made in recent years.



August 26th 2011

Advocacy International in Haiti: defending and strengthening local democracy

In early June 2010, Jeremy Smith took part in an international local government mission, at the invitation of by Haiti’s Minister of the Interior and Territorial Authorities, Paul Antoine Bien-Aimé, to help reconstruct a functioning local government system in areas badly hit by the January 2010 earthquake.  Ai was proud to have played a small part at this difficult, crucial time for Haiti. Jeremy represented Ai’s Dutch colleagues at VNG International.

The objectives

The plan was to help (re)develop local government and infrastructure in a combined 4-commune area, serving some 300,000 inhabitants in Léogane, Petit Goâve, Grand Goâve and Gressier.  These towns were at the epicentre of the earthquake.

Jeremy participated in a one-week “scoping mission” to kick-start this initiative, which was organised by local government associations from Canada, France and the Netherlands.  The mission had three objectives:

•    to analyse the situation in the four communes (which have a mix of urban and rural communities, and to reach conclusions on short and medium term steps to rebuild a functioning local government system
•    to meet the nascent national local government associations, with a view to helping them become effective organisations, able to work with the central government to make decentralisation work for the country
•    to look into the needs of and potential support for the capital city, Port-au-Prince (this involved colleagues from major cities like Montreal and Barcelona).

Assessing the problems

Jeremy was asked to take part mainly on the second objective – to assess the scope for future work with and for the national associations of Haiti.  As part of the scoping mission, he visited Léogane and Gressier and met with the mayors, vice-mayors and community leaders from all four communes.  The physical damage, four months on, was still overwhelming.

Thousands and thousands of people were huddled together in vast tent cities in the centre and across the town, and in hundreds of smaller groupings in the countryside.  There was hardly any functioning local government in the towns and little obvious evidence of national government presence.  The town halls were either damaged beyond use or completely destroyed. Hardly any employees remained – in part because outside NGOs had lured competent staff away by paying higher salaries.

The local leaders were quite upset that these NGOs have landed in their towns and started acting in their area without any reference to them.  This was undermining the government’s ability to function at the local and national levels; a stark precondition for Haiti to work as an orderly independent society in the future. Adding to these difficulties, there was a pressure and sense of urgency to rebuild as fast as possible before the rainy season arrived.

First conclusions

The conclusions reached at the end of the scoping mission involved firstly the task of establishing a physical base and local government presence in the towns, as well as providing a regional office to deal with issues common to the whole 4 commune area. The purpose was to show that local government was starting to provide public services, however modestly at the outset.

Return to Haiti

A year later, Jeremy returned to Haiti for a 2 week programme of capacity building and advocacy support work, with the two national associations of local authorities, representing the country’s Communes (FENAMH) and Communal Sections (FENACAH). The programme was organised by the local government associations of Canada  (FCM, UMQ) and the Netherlands.

On the ground, nothing much had changed.  The tent cities were as prevalent as before, and whilst there was less earthquake rubble in the streets, not much rebuilding had taken place in Port au Prince. However, the 25 mayors and elected representatives that Jeremy’s team worked with were committed to achieving positive change – which in their view can only come through a real process of decentralisation.

On paper, Haiti does have a system of local democracy. At the most local level, the country has around 140 communes, mainly covering an urban centre and surrounding villages.  Each commune is then divided into Communal Sections, of which there are over 500.

The problem was that the respective roles of Commune and Communal Section are not clearly defined, their finances are minimal, and there have been some tensions between the two.  Some see this as deliberate ‘divide and rule’ by the central government.  On the other hand, the Ministry of the Interior and Local Authorities has in recent years been a firm supporter of a more effective system of local democracy, so if this continues under the new government, there is some hope of real progress.  But as we found out, there are also some pressing existential threats

Towards strengthened local government

The VNG International team with Canadian colleagues helped to establish a local government support programme, mainly geared to helping rebuild a basic system around Léogane.

Jeremy’s specific role was to help build the capacity of FENAMH and FENACAH to act as effective representative national associations, as local partners with the central government.

The team organised a joint workshop at a hotel in Carrefour, a very poor suburb of Port au Prince, in which Jeremy and colleagues worked with the Haitian mayors and leaders to carry out a SWOT analysis of the current political and legal environment.  The 25 local leaders present, who had come from all over the country, agreed on a significant common set of priorities. The following days were spent working individually with each association, to develop their own one year and 3 year strategic action plans and outline work plans.  A major problem at the time was that the local government elections kept being pushed back, and there was uncertainty whether the new President Martelly would authorize them at all. [In fact, they were delayed and (June 2013) have not yet been held, but should now take place before the end of this year.]



June 26th 2011


As part of his ongoing work in local government and international development, Jeremy Smith was the main author of a publication titled “Decentralised development cooperation – European perspectives” (read on to download it in English and French).

It has been produced by Platforma, the Europe-wide network of local and regional governments for international development, to showcase the role, cost-effectiveness and value of partnerships between cities, towns and regions from Europe with their counterparts in lower-income countries across the world.  Lucie Guillet and Sandra Ceciarini of the Platforma and CEMR secretariats, also contributed to this work.

The introduction sets out the context and reasons for these  local-level partnerships for development – growing urbanisation and population, trends towards devolution of powers from central to sub-national governments, and a consequent focus on local governance and service delivery.  It also shows how the European Union has in recent years begun to recognize much more fully the value of these local partnerships as part of its overall development policies.

The biggest part of the publication, available in English and French, is given over to 16 short examples of local and regional partnerships.  These include two interesting UK examples – Leicester city with the Gujarat (India) city of Rajkot, for sustainable development with a strong community focus; and the Government of Wales with the region of Mbale in eastern Uganda, which focuses on the impact and mitigation of climate change.

Other examples of inter-regional cooperation include Catalonia with the Nariño region of Colombia, aimed at involving and empowering young people, in one of the hardest-hit areas in Colombia’s long armed conflict, and the French region of Basse-Normandie with the eastern Madagascan region of Atsinanana, where the cooperation targets regional development.

At more local (city and town) level, examples include that of France’s second city, Lyon, with Ougadougou, the capital of Burkina Faso.  This case demonstrates the value of long-term cooperation, which since 1993 has covered many aspects of urban development and public services, as well as a strong Local Agenda 21 (sustainability) element.  And then there is the partnership between the Dutch town of Apeldoorn and Banda Aceh, Indonesia – a town which suffered terrible damage in the 2004 tsunami.  The cooperation has included very practical support – fire engine, help with waste management – Banda Aceh won the prize in 2009 for cleanest city in Indonesia – but also covers a wider programme of institutional support and capacity-building.

The last part of the publication looks at the work of Platforma, which Ai is pleased to see is growing in influence and effectiveness, and has undertaken a second 2 year programme period, for which it has received financial support, since 2008, from the European Commission under the Non-State Actors and Local Authorities funding programme.

Jeremy had taken the initiative back in 2006, as Secretary General of the Council of European Municipalities and Regions (CEMR), to bring partners together into a new very broad-based and representative European “platform” of local and regional governments involved in international development work, which also included the “south” through international associations like United Cities and Local Government.  What was needed was a united voice towards the European institutions, and also a place to exchange information and learning amongst local and regional governments.  The development NGOs had long ago organised themselves at EU level in their association Concord, and local governments needed a similar capacity to be heard.

“Decentralised development cooperation – European perspectives”

Author: Jeremy Smith

No. of pages: 64

Publication date: April 2011

Available languages: English / French

Download English PDF

Download French PDF




The Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation

For the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation, Ai was commissioned to review the state of pro-poor advocacy in low income countries, and to make recommendations. The work involved a global and regional advocacy mapping exercise; the preparation, distribution and analysis of a questionnaire; interviews with leading players, and the production of a report.

The analysis of the results raised a number of key issues, summarised as follows:

  • Funding for pro-poor advocacy was considerably under-resourced.
  • As a result, networking at local, national, regional and international levels, was vital for pro-poor CSOs. Networking was valuable for sharing research, data and best practice, and also for adding weight and volume to advocacy arguments.
  • Links between northern and southern advocates on pro-poor development were weak.
  • Politically, national events were regarded by our participants as providing the strongest opportunities for effective advocacy, because NGOs/the public have more scope for holding their own government to account on ‘binding’ commitments.
  • International events, on the other hand, had value in agenda-setting, peer-pressure and shifting political attitudes, but less value in accountability terms.

We obtained very clear messages about the specific characteristics which advocates ascribe to effective advocacy:

  • A persistent vision and commitment to the process of advocacy over the long-term, combined with a flexibility that allows for opportunism.
  • Expertise, detailed research, evidence and case-building, alongside a thorough understanding of the relevant political and cultural context.
  • Strong communication skills; working relationships with opinion-formers and decision-makers, and skills in presenting the case in a compelling and accessible manner.
  • Strong networks and alliances between NGOs, stakeholders, local communities and donors.
  • Complementarity and diversity through shared overarching goals and messaging, but differences in approach and nuance.

We made the following recommendations:

1.       A long-term approach by donors was needed, to match the long-term nature of the advocacy process.  This would allow for additional resources to broaden advocacy from the current tendency to focus on obtaining commitments from decision-makers, to include the task of holding decision-makers to account for the delivery of those commitments at a national, regional and international level.

2.       Support for developing and building participatory democracy at the grass-roots level, especially in countries where representative democracy may be weak.

3.       Support for more liaison and networking, particularly between NGOs and social movements in the north and south for the purposes of consulting and agreeing advocacy goals; amplifying voices working on pro-poor development; sharing evidence, information and best practice;  ensuring the making of commitments; and working together to press for delivery of commitments to the poor.

4.       Resources to examine how monitoring and evaluation for advocacy can be strengthened, and what instruments and tools could be most applicable to advocacy gains.



November 27th 2010

Helping create the City of 2030: UCLG Summit in Mexico City

Old-Mexico-City-500pxDevelopment in Mexico City. Photograph: David Gordillo

From 16th to 21st November 2010, Mexico City hosted a huge gathering of city mayors and leaders from across the globe, for the World Summit of Local and Regional Leaders. Organised by United Cities and Local Governments, the Summit discussed the big crises and challenges facing cities and communities, looked ahead to the City of 2030, and debated ideas for a greater input by local governments into global governance – on issues as diverse as climate change, Millennium Development Goals, and “city diplomacy”.  Jeremy Smith was there to assist UCLG – which he had helped set up 7 years ago – in developing the themes and concepts for the Summit programme, and to draft the final outcome documents.

The work began in early 2010, in meetings with the Secretary General and team of UCLG at their offices in Barcelona.  Jeremy then drew up a concept note for the Summit, itemizing and explaining the themes.  These were approved in Spring 2010 by UCLG’s Executive Bureau in Chicago. He also helped with the invitations and Summit programme finalisation, and drew up the first drafts of the two Outcome Documents – a Manifesto for the City of 2030, and the Summit Conclusions.

During the Summit days in Mexico City, Jeremy helped the UCLG team with the final session organization – not so simple when dealing with the Mayors and Heads of Cabinet of some of the world’s largest cities like Guangzhou, Seoul, Johannesburg and Mexico City itself!

The Summit delegates took their chance to propose amendments to the outcome documents with enthusiasm – UCLG works in English, French and Spanish, so with around 200 amendments coming in at the last moment, it was an exciting evening’s teamwork putting it all together into coherent language while the delegates enjoyed the city centre fireworks to mark the 100th anniversary of Mexico’s 1910 revolution!

Jeremy was the principal drafter (including of course the agreed amendments) of  The City of 2030 – a short “manifesto” describing the kind of urban place we would all like to create – and which mayors and local councillors can use their powers to work towards.  It was adopted almost unanimously by the Summit delegates. Ai’s Creative team designed the Manifesto in the three language versions.

We are pleased to note that the Manifesto has a footnote mention in the 2013 UN Report of the High-Level Panel of Eminent Persons on the Post-2015 Development Agenda (co-chaired by the President of Indonesia and Liberia and the Prime minister of the UK)

“A new global partnership to eradicate poverty and transform economies through sustainable development”.

The Report (downloadable here):

“recommends that targets in the post-2015 agenda should be set for 2030”, and the footnote states (p.19):

“Local and regional authorities are already working with a horizon of 2030 (Manifesto for the City of 2030) balancing a long-term vision with the fast changing nature of the world today.”

The Manifesto and the summit Conclusions are available from the UCLG website:

City of 2030 – English

City of 2030 – French

City of 2030 – Spanish

Caption goes hereMayor Topbaş Istanbul, Mayor Delanoë Paris and Mayor Ebrard Casaubón Mexico City at the UCLG Congress
UCLG Mexico City





June 26th 2007

Queen Rania of Jordan and WANA Forum

Ai’s director, Ann Pettifor was invited by HRH Queen Rania of Jordan to join a task force (that met in both London and Amman, Jordan) that advised the Queen on a strategy for building bridges between women and children in the Middle East and the West. Subsequently Ms Pettifor was invited by the Queen to attend a conference in Jordan: “Mobilizing for Action”  to turn the tide on maternal and newborn mortality and ensure that girls everywhere have access to education.

Ms Pettifor has also advised Prince Hassan bin Talal of Jordan, especially in relation to his leadership of the Forum on West Asia and North Africa (WANA) – an initiative which brings together different stakeholders from the region to find locally rooted solutions to the social, environmental and economic challenges of the region.




Advocacy International
51 Clarence Gate Gardens
Glentworth Street
London NW1 6QS

Copyright ©
All rights reserved