4 steps to crack gender equality through coding in Afghanistan

“I really like coding. I always wanted to know how websites were built. This course is very effective for girls, because it is very important for their improvement. It allows us to learn how to build websites, to feel self-confident and connected to the world.” Mina, Girls Can Code Student.

Womanity has been working in Afghanistan for over 10 years. Improving girls’ education has always been at the heart of this work, with a focus on equipping public high schools with a quality learning environment. In recent years, this has shifted to providing girls in Afghanistan with the skills needed to pursue careers in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineer, Mathematics) related fields.
The innovative 3 year long programme, called Girls Can Code, launched in 2017 after a successful pilot the previous year. It runs in 4 schools in Kabul, for girls aged 16-19 years old. Students are taught coding skills such as HTML and Javascript amongst others, as well as English language skills and basic computer literacy. At the end of the programme students build a website from scratch and can apply for internship opportunities that are set up with local companies.

1. Investing in girls

But why girls? And why Afghanistan? It’s a well known fact that women and girls in Afghanistan face some of the toughest challenges when it comes to gender equality. In 2016 women’s participation in the labour force was only 19%. Yet women have many barriers to overcome to even break into the workplace. Some 60% of girls are not in school, and 52% of women are illiterate.
Meanwhile employers in Afghanistan consider English language and computer literacy skills the most lacking but the most needed to enter the workforce. This doesn’t take into account traditional attitudes on the role of women that can further prevent girls from getting jobs. The country is working hard to change this, and has made some progress, but change takes time.

2. Role models and key influencers

The support of high profile ambassadors can work wonders in speeding up this process. Recently we were honoured to be visited by several high profile dignitaries who came to meet our Girls Can Code students and see first hand the impact the programme is having. We were privileged to meet the First Lady of Afghanistan who lent her support and endorsed the course:

“Your programme is very successful. I am very pleased with your initiative, it’s setting out a new culture and opens up opportunities for students. It’s providing skills that can be used in many other professions and settings. You will become well known for this work.” First Lady of Afghanistan.

Such support helps put Girls Can Code on the map, as well encourage buy-in from the local community including girls’ parents – invaluable for its long-term success. 
We know how important this buy-in is. We’ve worked hard to build partnerships with important stakeholders, including the Ministry of Education, to ensure the sustainability and relevance of the programme. Recently the Education Director of Kabul visited and said:

I am proud of the collaboration between the Ministry of Education, Womanity and these schools. Girls Can Code is strategically aligned with our plans to provide students with an education that is relevant and of a good quality, to gain skills and competences needed for their country”.

3. Real life projects

The programme’s engaging and exciting content is another reason why Girls Can Code has been so popular with students. For instance, towards the end of the course students work on and produce a real website. As well as the practical skills this gives students, it also showcases the benefit of the programme to the wider community. One student, Marjan, worked on the website for Al-Hayat Hospital. Upon completion, its CEO said:

We had a plan to have a website for our company and were looking for a developer or a company to build it for us. One of our colleagues introduced us to the Womanity’s Girls Can Code programme and we decided to test students to develop the website. Marjan worked on our project and we are immensely happy of the result. Marjan, as leader of the team, demonstrated competence and dedication.  The website is an informative website about our hospital. We will expand it in the future and we will want Marjan’s assistance for that. We encourage and recommend other institutions to partner with the GCC programme to design websites for their companies.”

4. Getting girls in the workplace

An important aspect of the programme is providing opportunities for girls once the course is finished, facilitating jobs and securing internships for them. Outside of coding lessons girls can take part in extracurricular activities, such as CV writing or developing interview skills. Meetings with role models are set up, as well as mentoring opportunities. We also engage local businesses and work to find internships for students who want them. Currently 9 students are participating in internship programmes, providing invaluable experience. Looking ahead, this will be an area of growth for us.

Whilst there is lots to learn and to look forward to, Girls Can Code proves that by nurturing girls’ aspirations, we can enlarge their realm of possibilities. Little by little progress for women and what they can be in society will be made. As one student put it: “I can learn if I try”.

To find out more see how Womanity advances women eduction in Afghanistan or visit the Girls can Code website.