Coding for Change: Mentoring Afghanistan’s tech girls

May 12, 2017
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code-to-inspire code

Submitted by Nahid Ahmadi, Mentor at Code to Inspire  - an organisation which uses technology education and outreach to provide Afghan women with leverage in their fight for social, political, and economic equality. This blog is part of the UN Girls’ Education Initiative’s #STEMtheGap series,  focussing on women and girls in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics. Photo credit: Code to Inspire. 
 

I don’t need to tell you the importance of technology all over the world in every industry.

Before I received my education in computer science, however, I didn’t know anything about STEM. Once I started to learn about it, I couldn’t stop. I love coding and programming so much, I find it so deeply satisfying that I can spend all day solving problems or creating a program or app with code.

If I felt that way once I received my education, I wondered, how would the rest of the women in my country feel if they were awarded the same opportunity to create, code, and earn money.  They would probably be able to help solve some of our country’s most menacing problems if they had the right tools.

For women and girls in Afghanistan, however, safety is one of our biggest challenges. It’s not safe for us to walk outside by ourselves, so it’s nearly impossible to be able to go to school, then college, and then, ultimately, work at a fulfilling, well-paying job if we can’t even run out to grab a coffee on our own. You can imagine, as well, that it’s not great for the self-esteem of Afghan women that we don’t have access to such a basic right, and that our society tells us we can’t be trusted to be out on our own.

Code to Inspire, however, is teaching the next generation of women a different narrative about themselves. Men aren’t the only ones in our country who can learn the skills that can propel them into a global marketplace. In fact, through the many transformational powers of the internet, Afghan girls can code and utilize social media to promote their work.

As a teacher, I’ve been able to see our students learn so much and make such remarkable progress in a short period of time. They use their education and imagination to create games, to present the cultures of their country and solve its problems. For example, some of my students develop websites to help Afghan business women and artists grow their businesses internationally. In this way, they are making a clear path for women in tech in our country.

Give them a few years a decent job opportunity, and we’ll really start to see some perceptions shift. Men are noticing what our students are doing, and realizing that women and girls are more than capable of receiving a great education that leads to fulfilling work and a stable income.  Better yet, because women can code and program from home after they graduate from our school, they can earn a wage from the safety of their own home.

While, of course, we would love our country to be safe enough that women can leave their homes comfortably, we have to work within the system we have – not the system we want. By enabling our students to work from their homes, I’m so proud of the progress we’ve been able to make within the confines of Afghan culture.

Not only are we making our country a more equal place, we are improving the self-esteem of our students. That is no easy feat, no matter where you the world you live, to improve the self-esteem of young women! We show them that they have the tools to combat poverty at home while engaging in social media to leave a global footprint. They can solve their society’s problems by developing their own ideas through websites, apps, and games that we teach them. That’s how we start to see their self-image and self-worth improve.

By giving women a path to careers in tech in Afghanistan, we’ve tapped into a real market need: women in Afghanistan rarely work professionally, and the Afghan workforce needs more tech talent. It’s actually becoming easier for women here to get a job in tech than in other fields because it’s still so new to us, and not a ton of Afghans are educated in tech.  By fulfilling both needs, I can see a shining, bright future for my country

In particular, and most importantly, I think, is social media. Women here tend to be more engaged with social media than men, giving them a leg-up, because it basically opens up the entire world to them. Not only can Afghan women utilize their social media presence to connect with potential employers the world over, but they’re also more informed, as result, of international trends and needs. In a lot of ways, Twitter and Facebook enable our students to tear down borders and connect with the entire world, no matter where they and their laptops are.

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Screen Shot 2017-05-11 at 17.47.00About the Author
 
Since August 2015, Nahid Ahmadi has been a mentor with Code to Inspire, the first coding school in Afghanistan for girls.Before Code to Inspire, she was a tutor in Computer Science at Herat University and worked as web developer. She is an alumnae of Herat University where she earned her degree in Software Engineering in 2015.