“For many of these girls, their life is already defined by family, the community and society. They have to marry, they have to stay at home, they have to raise the kids.” But, this all-girl robotics team from Afghanistan have already become a media sensation, shattering all stereotypes of gender and culture competing in the First Global Challenge that includes youths from 150 countries. The team made up of six girls between the ages of 14 and 16 have participated in a challenge that celebrates robotics and is created to encourage young people to pursue careers in STEM programs.
Denied visas to the US twice
Being able to participate in the event was an achievement in itself since their visas were denied twice by the US government. But, due to much pressure put by the media, they were finally granted their visas. To add to this, the material for their robot was held up in customs for an unusually long period, which gave them a short span of time to assemble it for the competition. This meant that they received less time to do so as compared to the other teams. But, it never deterred them from carrying out the purpose for which they came. One team member, Rodaba Noori said, “We want to be a good example for girls, We want to make our country a better place to live, work and get an education.”
The impact of technology on young girls
The team’s mentor Roya Mahboob, CEO of Digital Citizen Fund which is a non-profit organisation bringing IT education to the developing parts of the world, said that, “This environment of working together to solve robotics problems gives them the feeling that they can do something much greater.” She believes that technology can create opportunities for women if they are guided in that direction. Mahboob herself, an Afghan refugee, raised in Iran started her own tech company in Afghanistan which released her from the shackles of culture and borders. She also added by saying, “We want to tell the men in our society that women can make it if you give them the opportunity and the tools. This changes their family’s view later on. They say, ‘wow,’ because this was always for the boys and the men.”
Politics has no place here
Their robot, named ‘Better idea of Afghan girls.’, has bridged political controversies in an event where discrimination has no place. An Iranian team member was overjoyed with the diversity present in the event and said, “God made this planet for something like this, all the people coming together as friends, politics cannot stop science competitions like this.” The Afghan team bagged silver medals for their superb efforts and were also honoured at the Afghan embassy.
These young girls have become celebrities and have inspired countless young girls in the competition and in their home country too. With their visas as memories of a wonderful time in America, they go back to their country proud and honoured with a brighter future ahead.