US taxpayers spent $89.7 million to ’empower’ Afghan women. So far, just 55 of them have found jobs.

US taxpayers spent $89.7 million to ’empower’ Afghan women. So far, just 55 of them have found jobs.
A new report shows that a government program to promote gender equality and employment for Afghanistan women has cost U.S. taxpayers $89.7 million over three years — and found jobs for just 55 women. (HOSHANG HASHIMI/AFP/Getty Images)

A government program to promote gender equality and employment for Afghanistan women has cost U.S. taxpayers $89.7 million over three years — and found jobs for just 55 women, a new report shows.

It happened under a United States Agency for International Development program called “Promote.” The program is a five-year effort with a total taxpayer price tag of $216 million.

The program’s stated goal is to empower 75,000 women in Afghanistan. But a report by the Special Inspector General for Afghanistan Reconstruction, or SIGAR, states that the agency has made little progress toward that goal.

Can the program deliver its goal?

“It is unclear whether the agency can deliver the opportunities it promised the women of Afghanistan,” the report states.

Promote is described as the USAID’s largest single investment to advance women globally. Part of its mission is to help Afghan women find jobs.

“An end-of-program performance indicator target for one component is for 2,100 women to find new or better employment with the Afghan government,” the inspector general stated. “As of September 2017, USAID said 55 women did.”

Another 2017 goal was to help 420 women find new or better employment. Promote also planned to enroll 1,968 women in an internship program and have 900 program graduates.

Halfway through 2017, Promote had found new or better employment for 39 women. Additionally, enrollment in the internship program fell 1,000 women short and just 132 women had graduated.

USAID’s website states that Promote seeks to to build a “brighter future for Afghanistan” by advancing women.

The website also states Promote is a joint commitment by the U.S. and Afghan governments. It seeks to empower 75,000 women between the ages of 18-30 and help ensure these women are among a new generation of Afghan political, business, and civil society leaders.

“Promote aims to empower women to become leaders alongside their male counterparts, and ensure they have the skills, experience, knowledge, and networks to succeed,” the website states.  “USAID has committed $216 million to fund the program, making it the largest women’s empowerment project in the U.S. Government’s history. Other international donors are able to contribute an additional $200 million to help expand the program.”

The inspector general indicated that no other country or organization has donated to the program, other than the U.S.

“As of January 2018, no international donors had contributed funding to Promote,” the report states.”Officials from five of the seven donor countries SIGAR spoke to said they cannot financially contribute to the Promote program or that USAID’s assumption that foreign donors would contribute $200 million for the program was an unrealistic goal.”

The future of the program also appears to be in doubt.

“USAID/Afghanistan told SIGAR it does not expect the Afghan government to sustain Promote,” the inspector general wrote. “This raises questions about whether Promote is sustainable at all and could put USAID’s investment in the program in jeopardy.”

What’s next?

The inspector general recommended USAID should re-evaluate the program before it spends the rest of its taxpayer-funded budget.

“Given that the program has expended $89.7 of its potential $216 million, USAID has an opportunity to reassess and adjust the program and take steps to enhance its sustainability now, rather than waiting until the program is over in 2020 or 2021,” the report states.