Collective Power: Responding to the Afghanistan Crisis

When the Taliban group seized power in Afghanistan in August 2021, the Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific team stepped up to respond to a humanitarian crisis that was quickly unfolding. We reinforced our grant teams to process the deluge of grant applications streaming from Afghanistan and get resources to the ground quickly, and assist at-risk women and non-binary human rights defenders and their families to fly out of Kabul to safety. We had to mobilise financial resources to be able to meet as many eligible requests for resiliency, protection and well-being support as possible.

Illustration of the Afghanistan Crisis © Yalda Yaqubi

We also leaned into the collective power of our Sister Funds model — a global consortium of four independent and interdependent Urgent Action Funds. As Sister Funds, we share the same herstory, rapid response model, and made a deep political commitment to share power and work together for our common vision. On the first four weeks of our crisis response, we -

Coordinated Our Response

A key learning of UAF A&P from the Myanmar crisis response is the importance of social capital in neighboring countries that can deliver support for displaced activists and defenders. During this early period of turmoil, most of support that activists said they needed was for relocation, securing passports and access to countries that can provide asylum. UAF Women’s Human Rights (UAF WHR) and UAF A&P’s program teams coordinated closely to share contacts and information on asylum applications, visa, and flight availability. The UAF WHR programs team also facilitated connections with organisations and individuals (advisors included) in Central Asia who could support resettled activists from Afghanistan.

Mobilised Resources

The Sister Funds supported mobilisation of financial resources in different ways. UAF WHR created a fundraising page which raised US$22,000. The Sister Funds tapped and redirected their donor network to UAF A&P, and shared leads on funding opportunities. For instance, UAF Africa and UAF WHR facilitated connections with their own donors which resulted in two new grants for UAF A&P. UAF WHR and UAF A&P teamed up to request The Swedish International Cooperation Agency (Sida) to amend a current collective grant to redirect a portion towards the Afghanistan response.

Supported Advocacy

When the crisis hit, the world’s eyes were on Afghanistan. Under the leadership of Urgent Action Fund Latin America and the Caribbean (FAU-AL) on our global communications work, we leveraged our global visibility to amplify UAF A&P’s communications. Within 36 hours, the Communications Working Group released our joint call to action. Also, UAF WHR staff supported advocacy work with organisations and donors.

By July 2022, 11 months after we started our Afghanistan crisis response, we moved USD 2.4 million (523 grants) to more than 2,000 Afghan women and non-binary defenders and their families.

Lessons Learned

The risks that activists face take on different forms, are constant, and do not have borders. The support they need to manage these risks cannot be addressed by one funding, one organisation, or one-off response alone. Instead, response should be a continuum of efforts that are multi-faceted, holistic, and offered by different actors. This highlights for us the value of building an ecosystem of different actors that can mobilise cross-regional response and offer a web of different support to activists at different points in time. Collaboration however, specially in a context of rapid response, often is easier said than done. What has facilitated it for us is the investment we made over the years to reach alignment in values and vision, and to build that trust and relationship with each other.

The Sister Funds’ Collaboration Case Notes are stories of leveraging the collective power of the Sister Funds model in strengthening the resilience and security of women and LBTQI human rights defenders, and their organisations and movements.

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Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific

Urgent Action Fund Asia & Pacific

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A regional women’s human rights and feminist fund that protects, strengthens and sustains women and non-binary human rights defenders in Asia and the Pacific