A Brief Historical Context
After years of political overthrows, Afghanistan has once again been taken over by Taliban. As an extreme and ultraconservative Islamic fundamentalist group, it ruled Afghanistan for a period of 5 years (1996-2001). After years of violence, the Afghan guerrilla fighters had been successful in forcing the soviet troops and the communist government to withdraw. While the Afghans envisioned a new era of peace and stability, their actions post gaining power proved otherwise. This period witnessed draconian measures. Currently, amidst the clashes between patriots and Taliban ensued over the national flag, and people flocking to airports and clinging to planes with the hope to escape, there is a community which is more than ever scared—the women. They fear another rule of the Taliban will crush all the progress in terms of their rights, dreams and freedom. The rule of the Taliban will have a repressive impact on this half of Afghanistan’s population. Some of the prescriptions for women in the earlier rule include-
Wearing Burqas compulsorily; Public beatings upon showing their face or even an inch of skin, became common.
Ban on application of makeup.
Women couldn’t leave their homes without a male relative.
Normalization of violence against women- stoning, cutting off their body parts, child brides etc.
Women were barred from education and working.
The current scenario in Afghanistan washes away the progress made in 20 years for women, however, meet the role models who have eloped their decided fate and did not let safety or social prejudice compromise education.
Roya Mahboob, a success story and an entrepreneur, was born in Herat, Afghanistan, but left the country with her family after the Soviet invasion. Mahboob spent her early childhood in Iran as an Afghan Refugee and began her education in Iran despite several structural barriers. As an Afghan woman she couldn’t sign up for IT classes, but that didn’t stop her inquisitive nature for computers and broke through the technological barriers associated with women in technology. (Techwire, 2016).
She returned to Afghanistan in 1994, and recalls how the VCRs and access to cinema provided an escape from taliban’s rule. However, she recounts the day, when she witnessed Taliban burning down TVs, books and VCRs-
“We were confined to our houses. It wasn’t a jail, but felt like a jail”.
In 2003, an internet café was opened in Herat, which only her brother and cousins could visit. However, she insisted on going there, and finally got a chance to use it in the early opening hours of the café. That moment, her world opened up and she wanted to stay connected to the world through that computer. She went on to earn a bachelor's degree of Computer Science for information and communications technology from Herat University. Her fundamental vision, today, is focused on digital literacy to reduce the gap between education and job markets, and especially to uplift women in the field of STEM.
Roya is Afghanistan’s first women tech CEO. She founded her own IT firm, the Afghan Citadel Software Company, at the age of 23. Mahboob’s company installed the technology lab at Baghnazargah High School for girls. It is because of her efforts, the girls got computers and Internet access for the first time. Two years after founding ACSC, she was regarded as TIME magazine’s 100 Most Influential People in the world.
She has also founded and guided an all-girls robotics team consisting of currently 20 teenage girls. She raises funds through her digital citizen fund to empower girls. The team of girls hail from Herat, Roya’s hometown itself.
Nadia Ghulam Dastgir
Nadia Ghulam Dastgir, is an Afghan female activist and author, currently based in Catalonia, Spain. Nadia was born in Kabul in 1985. She was 7 years old (1992), when a bomb destroyed her house. Nadia’s face was badly burnt; in the DW Documentary - “Afghanistan - Land of endless war” she shares-
“In my country, the value of women and men are very different. Who would marry a burnt woman like me? So, they refused to help me”
With her mother by her side, Nadia was eventually healed at the hospital. She later on went to publish a book “Tales That Healed Me”, a heart touching compilation of stories that her mother told her in the hospital. In order to sustain her family as a woman, Nadia, aged 11, decided to disguise herself as a man & learn the rules of Taliban to survive for ten years. It was after she got rescued by an International NGO-Association for Human Rights in Afghanistan, she moved to her new home in Spain. Therein, she went on to publish several books, the most notable of which- “The secret of my turban” (2010) won the Prudenci Bertrana prize in 2010.
Fereshteh was born in Iran, to Afghan refugee parents. Her family moved back to Herat, after the Taliban regime ended in 2002. Forough had already finished high school in Iran, majoring in literature. She then went on to obtain her bachelor's degree in computer science from Herat University and later a master's from Technical University of Berlin in Germany. She founded Code to Inspire in January 2015, Forough was also a co-founder and board member Digital Citizen Fund, a non-profit that teaches girls and women digital literacy and works to provide access to technology and the internet to girls in developing countries. Having faced discrimination from her male peers during her studies-
“As a woman in the technology sector in Afghanistan, I faced verbal sexual harassment, discrimination, and threats, despite being a professor,”
She decided to open an exclusive first all-female coding school in Afghanistan in November 2015.
Bahara Mohammadi was a displaced refugee of war. She spent most of her childhood in Iran and attended high school in western Pennsylvania before arriving at Drew University to study neuroscience. Knowing the plight of women back in her homeland, she decided to uplift them through education, and computer science as a specialization. Mohammadi returned to Afghanistan, to teach computer coding to 20 Afghan girls in grades four to 12, through a program she designed herself: Afghan Girls Code.
“Afghan women are always suppressed and don’t have basic rights." "Whatever your love and passion is, you can pass it on to others.”
Bahara eventually hired a software engineering college student in 2018 to run the program with fresh incoming students while she was away, completing her junior year. Her goal was to train the girls to participate in international coding competitions.
For most girls in Afghanistan, getting an education is still a distant dream, of low priority for their families and superfluous. Apparently, only 10 percent of Afghans have access to the Internet and only a fraction of those are women.
The issue of Taliban taking over isn't only limited to girls in Afghanistan but extends to women/students seeking education in other countries. In neighboring countries like India, currently, out of around 15,000 Afghan students, 7,500 are on scholarship and others are self-financed, as per the Afghanistan embassy in Delhi. Most of them cannot return, as they believed their foreign education would help them have a great career back home. That dream however, is now shattered. Others are expressing their worry about the revenges that would be inflicted on their family members involved in the army, human rights or Women NGOs.
However, there are human rights lawyers on ground, and NGOs stationed abroad, seeking to help the crisis. Recently, the all girls robotics team hailing from Herat was saved by the Qatar Government. Multiple institutions have offered them scholarships. Likewise, Institutions like the IIT-D, AMU in India have also pledged to help their Afghani Alumni and students.
There are ways in which we all can help Afghanistan right now-
Stay informed about the crisis & educate your peers, too.
Donate to notable NGOs and Charities working to help the crisis.
Amplify the voices of Afghans and Human rights workers / lawyers with the help of social media.
Support Afghans studying at your university or country.
Here’s the link to an NGO for donations to help the Afghanistan crisis: https://www.justnessproject.com/donate
Image source: Unsplash, Ehimetalor Akhere Unuabona