Afghan women ages 18 to 30 are the intended beneficiaries of the U.S. Agency for International Development's request of $416 million for "education, promotion and training of a new generation," the agency said.

The new five-year program — to be known as the Promoting Gender Equality in National Priority Programs project — is intended to build on the American development agencies' previous efforts in promoting Afghan women over the past decade.

"Enormous progress has been made in advancing opportunities for women and girls in Afghanistan over the past 11 years," USAID Administration Rajiv Shah said. "While there are challenges ahead, Promote underscores our commitment to ensuring that women and girls play a major role in determining Afghanistan's political and economic future."

American taxpayers have provided $7.9 billion in aid to Afghanistan since 2002, according to USAID. Between 2002 and 2007, $342 million was spent by USAID on education projects, much of which went to programs aimed at helping young women who traditionally are not allowed to attend school in Muslim Afghanistan.

"Afghanistan has seen one of the most rapid declines in maternal mortality anywhere in the world and an increase in overall life expectancy of 15-20 years," USAID claimed in its announcement of the new program.

Thirty-five percent of students in the country are now women, more than 120,000 young women have graduated from secondary school and more than 40,000 are attending college, according to USAID. A fourth of the Afghan parliament's members are women.

Efforts to improve the status of women in Afghanistan and many other Muslim countries begin with gaining basic rights like being able to attend school, have jobs outside their homes and bring lawsuits in court.