A first of its kind female-only coding school has opened in Herat, Afghanistan. Led by the founder Fereshteh Forough, Code to Inspire (CTI) has identified its main aim as inspiring unprivileged Afghan women to find their way to education and financial independence.
Fereshteh Forough, who spent her childhood in Iran, returned to Afghanistan after the fall of the Taliban regime. She graduated in Computer Science from Herat University and continued her education at the Technical University of Berlin. After completing her master's degree, she came back home to establish CTI and teach women elementary web design, basic programming skills, and mobile app development.
CTI provides a safe learning environment for 50 girls and women aged 15-25 in a country where the female population faces many barriers, writes Rebecca Campbell of Bitcoin Magazine. Talking to Campbell, Forough admitted it was a challenging yet rewarding experience to work in an environment where women were not receiving support and the same educational opportunities as their male counterparts:
"Girls in Afghanistan lack safe places to study and learn. They also lack employment options, specifically in IT. 16 percent of Afghan women are employed while 2014 saw only 20 percent of public universities taking in female students."
CTI, a recipient of the Google Rise Award for nonprofits promoting computer science education, has been trying to bridge the gap between female and male education. As Wadia Samadi of the Huffington Post notes, currently 80 percent of Afghan women are illiterate with no or very limited access to formal education.
CTI is trying to change that. It also aims to enhance the women's economic and social progress in Afghanistan's rapidly growing tech industry. CTI's coding courses give Afghan women a solid knowledge base and access to technology job market. Through this, CTI students have better chances to attain employment that is well-paid and socially accessible. Forough also believes that the access to the technology economy enables students to add value to their families and communities by altering traditional gender roles.
According to official statistics by the Ministry of Communication and Information Technology, almost 90 percent of the population has telecom coverage, and the government has granted licenses to 51 companies to provide Internet connections. It was estimated that more than 10 percent of the Afghan population, or 3 million people, have access to the Internet.
The availability of an Internet connection can allow women to work from home, but to do so, they need to gain specific skills to offer to prospective employers. That is where CTI intervenes to make a positive change by giving valuable lessons to female students. As the official website of CTI reads, the school has plans to expand and open branches in other Afghan cities to promote gender equality, access to education and to become a real advocate for change.
Tech companies operating in Afghanistan have started recognizing the benefits of encouraging women enter the tech industry. For instance, TechNation offers several programs to teach female students to code and to develop their entrepreneurial business skills. Each year one of the corporate initiatives, TechWomen Afghanistan, a network of 150 members, organizes workshops and special events. More than 100 young women aged 12-18 take part in Technovation Afghanistan, a global initiative in which participants develop mobile apps and learn how to launch startups.