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Afghan Women in STEM: Turning Adversity into Opportunity

February 12, 2018

Thunderbird's Project Artemis Afghanistan

There is a lot of talk these days around gender equality, in particular regarding the gap in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math (STEM). In the US and most Western nations, women make up approximately 30% of the workforce in this area. Many people speculate on the reasons for this disparity even though access to education for women in these disciplines is readily available. But how are women faring in developing nations such as Afghanistan where they traditionally haven’t had access to education?

The answer may surprise you.

In Afghanistan, for example, where literacy rates for women (and men) are still unbelievably low, women are making huge strides. The Afghan Ministry of Education states that more than 9.2 million children are enrolled in school, of which 39% are girls. Each year more girls are graduating high school and going on to university. According to USAID, about 100,000 Afghan women are currently enrolled in public and private universities, which is equivalent to about 33% of all college students. About 40% of these Afghan women pursue science, engineering, or math studies.

However, in addition to traditional educational programs, new innovative tech-focused initiatives have emerged. These include programs that are girl-centric and encourage young girls to learn how to code and create new ways of engaging with the world. These include the Digital Citizens Fund (Formerly the Women’s Annex) which focuses on encouraging digital literacy and community building for Afghan women, Womanity which offers a variety of educational programs for girls, and Code to Inspire which focuses on teaching female students how to code. 


Afghan women gain valuable business skills through Project Artemis

Afghan women gain valuable business skills through Project Artemis (2013)

Creating Opportunities

These and other programs, like the Thunderbird for Good Project Artemis program, bring practical technical and actionable business skills to women and give them the tools needed to create new opportunities for their families without having to leave Afghanistan or even travel far from home. Because technology is mobile, women can often use their new-found skills to create businesses that are based at home, enabling them to earn a living without upsetting family and cultural expectations. They truly have the world at their fingertips and are able to overcome the challenges of their environment.

But the real winning combination is providing entrepreneurship and business training in addition to the technical skills to enable these women to monetize their businesses and ideas. This gives an extra boost to those who are most in need. What once were insurmountable challenges are now easily overcome with 21st Century approaches. Women can remain in their homes/communities, raise their families, earn money and support their communities.

For example, five medical doctors have participated in Project Artemis. Safeia, Wahida, and Arefa who graduated in 2005, as well as Malika and Nafisah who graduated in 2008, used their new-found business education to run medical clinics. Another woman, Seqiqa, who also graduated in 2008 and had a degree in agricultural engineering, used her business training to run a mushroom-growing company. She has since gone on to get advanced degrees in hydrology. Jamila, who was another 2008 Project Artemis grad, became an architect and leveraged her education to manage her own design firm. Finally, Fakhria, who graduated in 2013, owned an IT services business and has leveraged her education and contacts to expand that business into other areas.

Clearly there are great opportunities for women in STEM not only in the Western world, but also in Afghanistan. We can help them by supporting programs like Project Artemis. To lend your support click here.

#womeninstem #afghangirlscode #gendergap #afghanistan #womenintech #startup #entrepreneur @susanaumack @projectartemis @thunderbird


About the author: Susan Aumack is a software marketing executive, mentor and alumna of Thunderbird. She lives in Santa Barbara CA.

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