The current situation in Afghanistan is known to be socially and politically unstable. The Taliban insurgency controls nearly 11 percent of the territory. Despite its fall in 2001, the armed group is still active across the whole country. That’s why security now is a serious challenge both in small and major towns. This security is particularly important for females. According to the interview with one anonymous woman, living under a Sunni Islamic fundamentalist political movement, especially before the American-led invasion, was horrible: they were not allowed to work, to study after the age of eight, to go out without complete covering. Now women’s living conditions are not so dreadful but they continue to suffer from the lack of equal status. There are some examples of brave and successful attempts to strive for greater independence and freedom.

Life as an Afghan woman

Trying to create an image of Afghanistan girl, people usually memorize and call child marriages, illiteracy, constant harassment, severe restrictions, and isolation. It is completely true but this answer is not comprehensive. After the removal of the Taliban regime new government has relaxed policies around women’s rights: they have got the opportunity to drive cars, to engage in different activities which had been banned before, to enroll in classes and take jobs. However, UNESCO statistics show that the current level of women’s education is very low: 40% of women get basic education and only 4% gain tertiary education. Even fewer women (about 19%) participate in the workforce. In general, the literacy rate for females is 24%.

One of the reasons is poverty which prevents families from sending their children to school. The main problem is, actually, a possible risk and danger, as extremists still believe that if girls are visible outside the home, they lose respect. Thus women are to be always accompanied by a male relative. As an alternative, they can also stay at home and do tailoring – the traditional work for females in Afghanistan. In fact, after the fall of the Taliban, the number of their’ opportunities has increased: some of them started their own business; many others were employed by little companies. Currently, about 50% of all Afghans in the medical profession are women. Nevertheless, females mostly dedicate their lives to taking care of household work.

A variety of women’s career choices

Even though Afghanistan is a patriarchal society where men are supposed to be breadwinners and to make all the important decisions, women are also able to manage difficult tasks being succeeded in serious posts. Nearly 28% of the seats in Afghan parliament are held by them. Several women took positions as ministers. The Afghan National Security forces have a growing number of female officers.

This list is not as short as it could be assumed. Afghan women overcome social barriers changing sexist social mind-sets. In Herat and Kabul, they are even learning to code thanks to special organizations’ support

In touch with outer world through programming

Fereshteh Forough, the Founder of first all-female coding school, was raised as a refugee in Iran. From early childhood, she had been facing many limitations that strengthened her confidence in the principle of equal opportunities of men and women. This idea encouraged her greatly.

After the fall of the Taliban, Ferestheh’s family moved to Herat. She received the bachelor’s degree in computer science there. It was her first step in breaking down traditional barriers. Code to Inspire (CTI) has become its high point. This nonprofit after-school coding program is working to build a path to prosperity for skilled Afghan women by helping them to work from home and to earn a living. It trains 50 girls teaching them elementary web design, along with mobile app development. All the students can launch websites and open online stores. Furthermore, their success shows that women in Afghanistan are as capable as men. The important goal of Forough’s coding school is not only to create a supportive community for young females but also to provide them with safe internships and employment.

The same goal is supported by another coding school “Girls Can Code” founded in Kabul by non-profit organization “The Womanity Foundation”. This program is designed for 11th and 12th-grade girls and includes 300 hours of training in basic code, such as JavaScript, HTML, CSS, and PHP. In 2016, of the 40 students graduated from this school 30 would like to join University, one to become a teacher and one to work in IT related fields.

Challenges but not preventers

In a traditionally male-dominated country like Afghanistan, women have to cope with many barriers connecting with their social identity. For this reason, conservative-minded members in some families do not allow their relatives to attend such classes. Code to Inspire’s teachers and mentors pay much attention to establishing a trustworthy relationship with parents and community. Then many families even become students’ advocate and support, as they perceive such an opportunity as a hope for brighter future.

There is also a problem connecting with online payments as many Afghans do not have bank accounts. Fereshteh Forough considers that adopting cryptocurrency Bitcoin could help to overcome this problem. Code to Inspire will presumably allow the girls to change their Bitcoins into Afghanis. Actually, all the participants have to deal with many hurdles but it doesn’t prevent them from completing their work. The result is worth trying. Educated women are more likely to raise healthy children in wealthier households. Educated women who can code are also able to improve the level of technological development in Afghanistan and help to stabilize the country’s position.

About 64% of Afghan people believe that women should be allowed working outside their homes. However, they are still forbidden to do it. Coding lets them to get rid of these restrictions, to reach their potential and realize a future beyond socially accepted “housework and marriage”. Fereshteh Forough’s opinion is that in the high-tech field, “it doesn’t matter who you are or where you are – with one computer and the internet you can reach the world”. It is completely true but there is also one valuable detail. For women whose rights are limited it is very important, as this opportunity allows them to finish decades of repression.

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