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This study reviewed the Learning for Community Empowerment Project (LCEP-2), a five-year project designed by UN-Habitat and funded by the United States International Agency for Development (USAID). The project’s major goal was to empower marginalized communities in Afghanistan through activities in integrated literacy, community saving and investment groups, apprenticeships, and business development training.

The study examined the empowerment model of this project. It first investigated the work the social organizers did with the men and women residents of the project implementation locations in transforming patriarchal norms in conservative areas to improve women’s access to public space. It then looked at the impact of literacy and apprenticeship training on women’s social and economic lives.

The study found that these social organizers, who were the front-line soldiers of the project, played a significant role in influencing the patriarchal institutions to encourage capacity development opportunities for women in the villages. It also found that this kind of community mobilization, which is crucial for the successful establishment of women’s empowerment programs, especially in conservative areas, is viewed as a secondary need by program design stakeholders and donors. High-level stakeholders often pay more attention to the project implementation stage and any tangible outcomes such as number of students enrolled, number of teachers trained, and number of schools established.

Regarding the LCEP-2 empowerment model itself, in total, the study revealed that the model played a crucial role in the social empowerment of women. However, it produced mixed results in regards to improving the economic lives of women. The majority of women who were enrolled in the apprenticeship training struggled in marketing their products due to patriarchal norms and the crippling economy in the country. The study suggested that Afghanistan should institutionalize the social organizers’ roles and the community mobilization process within its larger development framework by allocating sufficient resources and including them in any of its rural development activities. The study also recommends that program designers and policymakers involve social organizers in the design of women’s empowerment projects. This step will help to reduce gaps between policy and practice.

Additionally, the study concluded that livelihood training, which in certain situations is more effective than apprenticeship training, has the potential for successful growth in rural communities.