The United States Agency for International Development launched its largest women’s empowerment program in the world on Saturday. Called “Promote,” the program will invest up to $416 million dollars into the education, training, and promotion of Afghan women in civil society, government, and business.

via MA

via MA

The US has committed $200 million to Promote and is seeking $216 million from other donors for the five-year program. Promote will target Afghan women between the ages of 18-35 who have had secondary education. The program has four components: leadership training; the promotion of women in decision-making roles within the government; inclusion of women in the workplace, particularly in technology, finance, and administration; and strengthening the capacity of women’s rights groups and coalitions.

Both President Ashraf Ghani and Afghan Chief Executive Officer Abdullah Adbullah attended the launch of Promote in Kabul with USAID Administrator Rajiv Shah and other officials. Ghani and Adbullah both spoke about giving more roles to women in government and the need for women’s inclusion in economic development.

Administrator Shah explained that Promote, while a women’s empowerment program, is designed to foster development in Afghanistan as a whole. “Promote helps the Afghan people see that investing in a woman’s chances to succeed is essential to their own economic prosperity and national security,” said Shah. “By investing in women as champions for development, we can advance peace and broad-based growth across Afghanistan.”

Women in Afghanistan have made extraordinary progress over the last 13 years since the collapse of the Taliban regime and have played a critical role in the rebuilding of civil society. US Ambassador-at-Large for Global Women’s Issues Catherine Russell acknowledged this progress in video remarks prepared for the launch, but noted that much work remains for Afghan women to be “fully empowered to participate in their communities.”

“For us to see this take shape in Afghanistan, women have to be at the table–and in even greater numbers,” said Russell. “It is essential that women hold elected office and leadership positions at the highest levels, and to participate in all aspects of Afghan life.” Russell remarked that Promote is “about a commitment to doing everything we can to help the Afghan government continue to build momentum for women and especially the next generation of women leaders.”

Promote was welcomed by Afghan First Lady Rula Ghani, who also spoke at the launch on Saturday. Rula Ghani emphasized her desire that Promote reach not only urban women, but also “their educated sisters in the provinces.”

In addition to providing small grants to women’s organizations throughout the country, Promote will work with the Afghan Ministry of Women’s Affairs (MOWA) to provide funding for internship and fellowship programs in government ministries for Afghan women high school and college students. It will also promote policy reform at the national and local level and encourage the creation of more economic opportunities, primarily in urban areas.

MOWA Deputy Minister Muzhgan Mustafavi expressed optimism around the launch, telling Tolo News, “This program will bring visible changes in the working conditions of the women in the country.” At the same time, Mustafavi was candid about the need to monitor the program closely. “We ask that the government of Afghanistan is allowed to monitor the budget to ensure transparency and that aids are not wasted.”

In addition to Promote, USAID Administrator Shah also announced more than $110 million in aid for health and nutrition programs for Afghan women and girls. That aid will be used to improve nutrition among Afghan women and girls and reduce stunting, anemia, and iron deficiency.

Media Resources: USAID Press Release 11/8/14; USAID Promote Fact Sheet November 2014; Tolo News 11/8/14, 11/6/14; US Department of State 11/10/14

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