Asia

Afghan girls learn, code ‘underground’ to bypass Taliban curbs


Cooped up at dwelling in Herat, Afghanistan, Zainab Muhammadi reminisces about hanging out together with her pals within the cafeteria after coding class. Now she logs on day-after-day to secret on-line classes.

Her faculty shut down after the Taliban took management of the nation in August. But that didn’t cease Muhammadi from studying.

“There are threats and dangers to girls like me. If the Taliban get to know … they might punish me severely. They might even stone me to death,” mentioned Muhammadi, who requested to make use of a pseudonym to guard her id.

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“But I have not lost hope or my aspirations. I’m determined to continue studying,” the 25-year-old advised the Thomson Reuters Foundation on a video name.

She is considered one of an estimated lots of of Afghan women and girls who’re persevering with to study – some on-line and others in hidden makeshift school rooms – regardless of the Taliban’s closure of their faculties.

Fereshteh Forough, the CEO and founding father of Code to Inspire (CTI) – Afghanistan’s first all-female coding academy – created encrypted digital school rooms, uploaded course content material on-line, and gave laptops and web packages to about 100 of her college students, together with Muhammadi.

“You can be locked at home (and) explore the virtual world without any hesitation, without worrying about geographical boundaries. That’s the beauty of technology,” she mentioned.

In September, the federal government mentioned older boys might resume faculty, together with all primary-age youngsters, however advised older women roughly aged 12 to 18 to remain dwelling till circumstances permitted their return.

The Taliban, who barred women from schooling throughout their final rule about 20 years in the past, has promised it’ll enable them to go to high school because it seeks to indicate the world it has modified.

A senior UN official who met the Taliban earlier this month mentioned the federal government was engaged on a framework, which might be revealed by the tip of the yr.

“The education gains of the past two decades must be strengthened, not rolled back,” mentioned Omar Abdi, deputy govt director of the UN’s youngsters’s company UNICEF.

Missed alternatives

After the Taliban had been ousted in 2001, faculty attendance rose quickly, with greater than 3.6 million women enrolled by 2018, in response to UNICEF.

The quantity going to school, now within the tens of hundreds, additionally jumped. Nearly 6% of ladies had been accessing tertiary schooling in 2020, up from 1.8 % in 2011.

Nonetheless, the nation has one of many world’s greatest schooling gender gaps, with UNICEF saying women account for 60 % of the three.7 million Afghan youngsters out of college.

Failing to let women end their schooling bears an enormous price, together with poverty, baby marriage, early childbearing, and a lack of information of their rights and skill to entry fundamental providers, campaigners say.

“Education allows them to take care of their health, have a stronger voice in their family, prevent domestic violence and become breadwinners,” mentioned Forough, whose faculty teaches every little thing from English to graphic design and cell software growth.

“We didn’t want to wait. We wanted to continue our mission.”

Scared to review

The Taliban have additionally prompt that they might flip to know-how to assist some girls proceed to review.

The schooling minister, Abdul Baqi Haqqani, mentioned at a information convention final month that girls could be allowed to review in universities, however gender-segregated school rooms could be obligatory and feminine college students needs to be taught by girls.

Where this was not doable, he indicated instructing may very well be executed by way of streaming or closed circuit tv.

While some non-public universities have reopened, public universities stay closed.

Psychology pupil Aisa had hoped to make use of her diploma to assist the psychological well being of younger Afghans – which she says is a serious, however poorly understood concern within the nation.

But her goals evaporated because the Taliban swept to energy and he or she is now in hiding following threats to her household.

Aisa is about to begin a well being science diploma with the University of the People, a US-based organisation offering on-line programs to college students worldwide who face boundaries to increased schooling.

The college is providing 1,000 scholarships to Afghan girls who can now not examine.

“Without this scholarship I have no opportunities, and my future is broken. This is my last chance to get a degree,” mentioned Aisa, whose title has been modified to guard her id. “It’s safer for women like me to study underground.”

All her girlfriends again in Afghanistan had been compelled to surrender their research, she added. Even if the Taliban ultimately enable girls to return to school, she mentioned many could be too scared to take action. The University of the People mentioned college students solely required a smartphone or pill to take considered one of its 4 diploma programs – enterprise, schooling, pc science or well being science.

“These women don’t have any alternatives except for online education. Most cannot get out of the country. We are trying to give them some hope,” mentioned college president Shai Reshef.

Surveillance

Digital consultants worry that the cash-strapped Taliban will be unable to take care of power provides, communication networks and tech infrastructure.

Not solely might satellite tv for pc corporations and fiber suppliers from neighboring nations akin to Iran snap providers, however the Taliban might begin snooping on and censoring communications, mentioned Mustafa Soltany, a Kabul-based IT guide.

“The Taliban are very likely to put in place strict restrictions, monitoring and even spying in the digital arena where they can hunt dissidents, critics,” mentioned Soltany, who has seen Taliban troopers snatching and looking out folks’s cellphones at checkpoints.

But this doesn’t fear Pashtana Zalmai Khan Durrani, founding father of non-profit LEARN that has enrolled about 100 women in an underground faculty the place they’re studying science, know-how, engineering and arithmetic (STEM) on tablets.

She is working with US finance and tech corporations to launch satellite tv for pc web to bypass any Taliban curbs.

“I have my bases covered. They can’t do anything even if they try to cut internet access. We will be doing our own thing,” mentioned the 23-year-old, who’s hiding at an undisclosed location from the Taliban.

Like among the college students at LEARN, Muhammadi and her CTI classmates have been working remotely with international tech corporations on app growth and graphic design.

This permits them to earn as much as $500 a month – largely paid in money or cash transfers – and supply for his or her households, an unthinkable feat in the course of the Taliban’s earlier rule.

But Muhammadi doesn’t need to cease there.

“It is always said that Afghan women are weak and can do nothing … but I want to prove that we are strong,” she mentioned.

“I want to continue to study and inspire more students … and be known as one of the best coders in the world.”

Read extra:

Women protest the world’s ‘silence’ over crisis in Afghanistan

Poverty-stricken Afghans marry off underage girls in exchange for weapons, livestock

UN chief Guterres slams ‘broken’ Taliban promise made to women, girls



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