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SIGAR questions USAID program for Afghan women's empowerment

By STARS AND STRIPES Published: April 2, 2015

Just months after criticizing the U.S. Agency for International Development for poorly tracking its efforts to help women in Afghanistan, a government watchdog is asking tough questions about the organization’s new program to get Afghan women into leadership positions.

USAID announced the launch of the program, called Promote, last year. Described as its most ambitious women-empowerment effort in Afghanistan to date, Promote aims to bolster Afghan women’s advancement in government, the private sector and civil society.

Though the development agency has awarded $416 million in contracts for the program, USAID’s “plans for fully implementing and overseeing Promote remain unclear,” said the Office of the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction.

In addition, the source for nearly half of Promote’s funding has not been identified, Inspector General John F. Sopko said in a March 27 letter to USAID’s acting administrator, Alfonso E. Lenhardt.

USAID said Friday that, to date, only $42 million of the contracts, has been awarded.

In explaining the $416 million figure, USAID said it would commit $216 million to the Promote program and hoped to gain an additional $200 million from international donors.

“USAID worked closely with Afghan women, the Afghan government, and the private sector to design a gender program that will support Afghan women leaders,” Lisa Shepard, USAID spokeswoman, said in an email. “Promote will ensure that Afghan women have a decisive say in the future of their country. Like all of our work in Afghanistan, Promote will be subject to comprehensive monitoring and oversight to safeguard the project's success."

Sopko’s office, which has often criticized the agency for its inability to monitor the impact of its efforts to aid Afghan women, said that USAID had not provided requested work and performance plans for Promote. According to Sopko’s letter, released Wednesday, USAID said those documents were in draft because the contracts were recently signed — a situation the letter suggests is like putting the cart before the horse.

Similar concerns about Promote were raised last year by Afghan first lady Rula Ghani, SIGAR said.

“I do hope that we are not going to fall again into the game of contracting and subcontracting and the routine of workshops and training sessions generating a lot of certificates on paper and little else,” she said at a women’s empowerment forum in Oslo, Norway.

The troubling status of women in Afghanistan was thrown into stark relief two weeks ago, when Farkhunda, a 27-year-old woman, was brutally killed in Kabul after being falsely accused of burning a Quran. Hundreds of people, including policemen, stood by without intervening.

Though women have experienced undeniable gains since the Taliban was driven from power in 2001 — millions of girls and women now attend school, maternal mortality rates have dropped 80 percent — they still face routine discrimination and violence. Many worry that the progress they have made could be in jeopardy with the drawdown of American troops and the departure of aid organizations.

news@stripes.com

In this file photo from Dec. 6, 2012, an Afghan girl is seen reading a pamphlet provided by the provincial Director of Women's Affairs during a women's shura, or consultation, in Farah City, Afghanistan.
MATTHEW STROUP/U.S. NAVY

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