Fereshteh Forough’s project, Code to Inspire (CTI), is teaching women in Afghanistan how to write software, use computers and possibly get employment from the world wide web. Bitcoin.com spoke with Forough on how technology and the CTI project is opening up new opportunities for women in the region that simply didn’t exist before.
“I definitely think that technology is the best tool to help individuals shape their social and professional presence.”
— Fereshteh Forough, Code to Inspire
Learning any skill set is difficult in the country as the majority of men believe women shouldn’t be educated at all. Forough gives our readers insight into this hardship and how her nonprofit — Code to Inspire — is helping women from her country to get an edge on technology. Through this effort, Forough hopes that other areas around the world will also follow these ideas of teaching individuals for a better tomorrow regardless of gender.
Bitcoin.com (BC): What got you into the science behind computers and coding?
Fereshteh Forough (FF): That’s a very interesting question. I was born as an Afghan refugee in Iran during the USSR invasion of Afghanistan. My family and I moved to Afghanistan one year after the Taliban regime collapsed. I was interested in Literature and philosophy. When I got the results of my university entrance exam, I was assigned to a computer science faculty. Honestly, I didn’t want to go because I loved literature but my parents talked to me and they told me, it is the future, it is something that can change people’s lives. That’s how I got my Bachelor degree from Herat Computer Science Faculty and, later on, my Master’s from the Technical University of Berlin.
BC: What are some of the setbacks women in Afghanistan face today?
FF: Safety and security are one of the main reasons that is pushing women aside to participate in social activities. Lack of family support, considering cultural and social barriers make it difficult for women to travel alone by themselves without a male companion to accept job offers outside of their hometown.
“We are going to develop a female-driven, tech-based economy in Afghanistan by establishing codings schools for Afghan girls.”
The fear of being threatened by Taliban or extremists who are against women going to school and accessing education makes it very risky and challenging for many women in some part of Afghanistan to pursue what they want. Child marriage or early marriage is still a big issue. Almost 60% of girls are married by 16, which makes it impossible for many of them to continue their education.
BC: What is Code to Inspire and what is the goal?
FF: Code to Inspire is a 501c3 nonprofit based in New York City that is operating in Afghanistan. We established the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan on November 2015. CTI aims to educate, inspire and empower female students in Afghanistan within the age of ( 15-25) from high school to computer science faculty on how to code and program, and later on, find employment online. We are going to develop a female-driven, tech-based economy in Afghanistan by establishing codings schools for Afghan girls. Currently, we opened our first branch in Herat, Afghanistan where we cover 50 female students in total every day.
BC: How many people are helping you with this program?
FF: We have our local team in Herat, Afghanistan and in NYC. In our Herat office, there are five people including our project manager and four mentors who are teaching our girls in our coding school. CTI board and advisory members include individuals from Google, IBM, Deloitte, law firms, and other tech sectors.
“Sending money to female students was challenging as a majority of them were under age, so they didn’t have a bank account.”
BC: How did you get introduced to Bitcoin?
FF: I was the co-founder of Digital Citizen Fund (formerly Women’s Annex Foundation) with Roya Mahoob and Francesco Rulli. With the help of corporate donors, we managed to establish 11 computer labs for girls public schools in Herat and Kabul, Afghanistan.
One of our corporate partners, Bitlanders offered their platform to enable the girls in our school to start writing blogs and generate revenue by providing content. Sending money to female students was challenging as a majority of them were under age, so they didn’t have a bank account. PayPal is not operating in Afghanistan. Sending money through Western Union was costly due to transaction fees. These primary challenges led us to know about Bitcoin and the technology behind it. Therefore, we started to send bitcoin to the girls who were writing blogs in Afghanistan.
BC: Is there access to the Internet and mobile phones in the region?
FF: Based on Afghanistan Ministry of Telecommunications and Information Technology recent report, more than 80% of the residential area of the country has been covered by the telecom services. Currently, there are 23.21 million mobile phone users in the country. About the Internet service in Afghanistan, there are 51 Internet companies who have been issued licenses to provide internet services. High-speed internet services of DSL have been activated in major provinces. And about 3 million people or 10% of the population in the country have access to internet services.
BC: Do you think technology can help create stronger individuals worldwide?
FF: Yes, I definitely believe that technology is the best tool to help individuals shape their social and professional presence. Geographical boundaries, physical borders and having a piece of paper as passport or ID does not matter. You are a digital citizen of the world where you can access an enormous pile of information and networking resources. You are much faster, productive and well organized. Right now the only thing you need is a computer and an Internet connection to connect you to the whole world where you can find job opportunities, communicate with people from different part of the world at the same time and be part of the global economy.
“Geographical boundaries, physical borders and having a piece of paper as passport or ID does not matter. You are a digital citizen of the world where you can access an enormous pile of information and networking resources.”
BC: How is the funding for the project going?
FF: Right now it is mainly through individuals and corporate donors. We organized our first online crowdfunding in the of summer 2015 through Indiegogo where our goal was to raise $20,000 USD. Not only did we reach our goal, we even overfunded and raised $22,000 USD. We also received a kind donation of 20 laptops from Overstock.com to support our coding school in Afghanistan. We still try to raise fund to keep our coding school open for our daily educational program for 50 girls.
BC: Do you think over time you will see a significant attitude change in men towards the education of women in Afghanistan?
FF: Yes, absolutely. During the Taliban regime, there were only 900,000 students in Afghanistan with zero percent of girls going to school. Right now nearly 7 million children are enrolled in schools, around 37% or 2.5 million of them are girls. This is a huge step that proves that if we get the support of local communities and create more awareness about the importance of women’s education, we will see a better result in a long term period. I also believe that by having more educated women who are future mothers, the next generation more willing to learn and open to being educated. They are going to be peacemakers.
BC: Would you like to see your project inspire women from other countries to adopt the same principles that have similar hardships?
FF: Yes, first of all I definitely would love to expand our coding school in many cities in Afghanistan starting from Herat, Kabul and Mazar-e-sharif but my longer plan is to expand our coding school to middle east and Central Asia where women are sharing the same challenges and social and cultural limitations accessing educational environment and the job market.
Thanks for speaking with us Fereshteh; we wish you the best with your endeavors and hope things change for the better in your country. The beauty of the Internet and digital currency is that gender and race don’t matter, and we all can participate in this emerging economy. Good luck!
What do you think about the project Code to Inspire? Let us know in the comments below!
Images courtesy of Code To Inspire, Fereshteh Forough, and Redmemes