Hacking The Patriarchy: New York City-Based Nonprofit Teaches Afghan Girls How To Code

According to an October, 2017 report published by Human Rights Watch, 2/3 of Afghan girls do not attend school.

The report also notes that that figure seems to only be getting worse, not better.

Making matters worse, in an age where so much is done online, a report prepared by the BBC has found that, “Some 27 per cent of households have at least patchy access to the internet and computer literacy and ownership rates are low.”

Enter Code To Inspire (CTI)—a New York City based project that runs a coding school for girls in Afghanistan.

CTI was founded by Fereshteh Forough. Forough, who was born and raised as an Afghan refugee in Iran, holds both a Bachelor's and a Master's degree in Computer Science, and has taught Computer Science at the college level. According to an interview she did with the Axway AMPLIFY Blog, she set up CTI "...to lessen those hardships faced by the next generation of Afghan women" as they study and/or teach technology.

HTML Source Code Example (Photo Credit: Html-source-code3.png: Reisio derivative work: Hazmat2 (This file was derived from  Html-source-code3.png:) [Public domain or GPL (http://www.gnu.org/licenses/gpl.html)], via Wikimedia Commons)

The program is extremely selective. Hasib Rassa, CTI Program Manager is based in Afghanistan. He explains that the group first had to get a letter from the Afghan government, granting them permission to go into schools and introduce the program to students. Students who were interested then had to sit for an entrance exam. The students who performed the best on the exam were then invited for interviews where program staff gauged each student’s interest, and got a better sense of each student’s abilities.

”Our main goal is to pave the ground for university students...” explains Rassa, “To have them learn advanced coding and have them find jobs and get to know how to enter the tech market and how to find jobs…”

CTI is about more than just coding. There’s also a certain element of activism and advocacy that informs the student’s work. For example, students have developed an app to promote tourism in Afghanistan. Students have also created a game where players take on the Taliban in an attempt to cripple Opium production. This is significant as historically, the Taliban has benefitted a great deal from the drug trade in Afghanistan.

The Taliban has, at times, proven to be an obstacle for both CTI students and staff. Though CTI hasn’t received any feedback or direct threats from the Taliban or other extremist groups, Hasib Rassa notes that sometimes, when there’s a security threat, families might not want to let the girls out of the house to attend classes at CTI.

But despite the obstacles, people are still receptive to the work that CTI is trying to do.

“When we announced Code To Inspire and our program, there were a lot of people, a lot of girls, who were interested in it,” says Rassa, “They’ve seen our work. They’ve seen our results...Everyone trusts us because we are a very safe and comfortable place and we have a lot of achievements.

CTI students are also rising to the occasion and defying people’s expectations.

For example, Rassa tells the story of one particular student who has excelled at creating websites.

“She’s so small, but she can create websites, and she’s very creative,” he says.

The work that the students complete in the program is great, but equally important are the relationships that are formed.

”Mostly the relationship between the students and us,” replies Hasib Rassa, when asked to describe one particularly memorable or positive experience he’s had while working with the project, “We are like a family. It’s very great.  I really enjoy it.”

In the Summer of 2015, Fereshteh Forough launched a fundraiser to set up Code To Inspire. Now the group is trying to raise another $40,000 so they might expand their efforts.

A screen grab of Code To Inspire's website. (Photo Credit: Code To Inspire)