This Blog Post has been written by Help The Afghan Children (HTAC).
Afghanistan has experienced more than four decades of war and conflict, leading to extremely negative impacts on development, including lack of access to children’s education, worsened by continuing insecurity. Jawzjan is one of the provinces of Afghanistan affected by conflict, leading to large numbers of internally displaced people (IDPs), migration to other countries, poor economic conditions, drug addiction and girls’ poor access to education. This has led to a situation in which conflict and violence is common in everyday life, particularly affecting women and children.
As part of the What Works to Prevent Violence Against Women And Girls Global Programme, funded by UKAID, Help the Afghan Children (HTAC) is mitigating this situation of violence and conflict by implementing a peace education project in Jawzan province, with a range of projects. http://www.whatworks.co.za/about/global-programme/global-programme-projects/innovation-projects/item/30-prevention-of-violence-against-women-and-girls.
Important objectives of the PVAWG project include reducing fighting and aggressive behaviour among boys by educating them to reject violence against women and girls and adopt the principles of peaceful everyday living, and increase the use of non-violent conflict-resolution methods in the home and at school.
HTAC is also conducting research in schools to build evidence on the effectiveness of the project, particularly the peace education programme. In order to conduct the baseline research in schools, HTAC received permission from the Provincial Education Directorate and consent forms from school principals, parents and students, who received information sheets and a verbal description of the research. In one of the schools where all the students agreed and gave their consent to participate in the research, most of them could not be found at school on the day of data collection. HTAC’s team tried to find out why students were not available for interviews and during their discussions with peace education teachers and the principal of the school, they found that a rumour had been circulating that students were concerned about participating in the research and were absent from school.
The students’ absence from school raised ethical concerns among HTAC staff that the students may have a problem with the peace education or the research. Ethical concerns included the possibility that the research or peace education may cause some form of harm, e.g. threats from families or schools.
HTAC was determined to ensure that the students were not harmed by the peace education or research, and that no harm would come to the implementation of the project. Consequently, they contacted the What Works secretariat to brief them and seek advice on how to resolve the issue. The secretariat suggested mobilizing the community, including the school principal and teachers, parents and children, to find out more about the problem and the extent of the harm, and how to address it.
The outcome of the community mobilization was that the students were unaware of this rumour, and were fine and happily attending the school classes and peace education programme as usual. It turned out that the school had shared incorrect information with HTAC, including administrative problems e.g. enrolment lists, leading surveyors to search for students in the wrong classes.
HTAC learned a number of lessons from this experience. HTAC’s team was initially unsure of how to tackle the problem, as this was a new experience. However, HTAC learned that it is their responsibility to understand and address any problems arising from the project, and that asking for support and advice from the What Works secretariat can help to build capacity in troubleshooting ethical challenges. HTAC also learned that before starting research it is very important to ensure that participants understand the objectives and the context of the study before consenting to participate. Finally, learning from this experience included that sometimes, miscommunication can lead to a misconception of perceived problems and that any information coming from schools needs to be confirmed and verified.