Now no more male heroes as Afghan girl coders build their own champions - GulfToday

Despite being hard done by, Afghan women devise their own code of inspiration

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Students attend a class at the 'Code to inspire' school in Herat, Afghanistan. AFP

Afghan women, whether they are educated or not, continue to face challenges on all fronts. They still face acute sexual and domestic violence and discrimination.

And if you are independent-driven or educated, your fate could be worse. The torchbearers of a drive to improve women’s rights since the overthrow of the Taliban in 2001 are facing stiff opposition from conservative family members or hardline militant groups, for pursuing professional and financial independence.

And if these women are career-oriented and work with men, the anger of the militants and conservatives goes up by several notches.

The Taliban recently launched a deadly attack on the head office of US-funded aid group Counterpart International in Kabul, citing the “intermixing” of women and men working at the site and its promotion of “Western activities”.

However, amid this dark scenario, there is light at the end of the tunnel.

Like the princess who hops over goblins and throws daggers at evil wizards in the video game they built, a team of women coders in patriarchal Afghanistan wants to inspire a generation of girls to smash obstacles.

The young women are part of an after-school training programme called Code to Inspire in the western city of Herat, where they learn tech skills and create games and apps to educate girls across Afghanistan and beyond.

"The work that we do ... is about equality, empowerment and change so that these young ladies are able to add value to their communities and fight for their social, political and economic equality.

Their highest-profile success has been this year's release of "Afghan Hero Girl", built over six months by 12 young women, a phone app in which a princess wearing a green veil leaps around a crumbling castle in a quest to defeat a wizard and rescue her family.

Fereshteh Forough, a computer science teacher and a former refugee who founded Code to Inspire in 2015, said students were sick of the lack of female representation in the gaming industry and told her they were bored of "playing games where men are superheroes."

The game represents "the challenges and obstacles that women are facing every day in Afghanistan and despite all the backlashes they keep fighting and going through it," Forough, who is now based in New York, said in an email exchange with AFP.

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The games and apps are both educational and entertaining. AFP

In a country where girls often have only limited educational opportunities, internet access is patchy and women face deeply ingrained discrimination at every turn, Forough sees tech skills as having a transformative potential.

"By learning how to code you can do online remote work from the safety of your house if you (can) access the internet," she said.

"The work that we do ... is about equality, empowerment and change so that these young ladies are able to add value to their communities and fight for their social, political and economic equality," she added.

Get educated faster

Women's rights and education for girls have made significant gains since the fall of the Taliban nearly two decades ago, but challenges remain as the insurgents frequently attack girls' schools and threaten female students.

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Afghan students attend a class at the Code to inspire school in Herat. AFP

Afghanistan's ongoing war, now in its 19th year, resulted in more than 1,000 schools being closed by the end of 2018, UNICEF said, depriving some 500,000 children of their right to learning. A disproportionate number of these about 60 percent are girls.

The games and apps are both educational and entertaining. Some include memories of the coders or are based on true stories.

"My main goal as a game and app developer is to make as many educational games for girls as possible," Code to Inspire student Nasrin Wahidy said in a recent visit by AFP to the Herat school where the programme is based.

"We want the girls to learn and get educated faster through games."

Another game teaches young Afghans how to recognise the geography of their country by showing them where each province is located.

So far, Code to Inspire has taught more than 150 students to code, make games and apps, and develop websites.

"They will become a digital citizen of the world without considering geographical boundaries,"  Forough said.

Agence France-Presse