ROYA MAHBOOB | HOW AFGHAN WOMEN ARE CODING FOR TOMORROW | 2016

ROYA MAHBOOB | HOW AFGHAN WOMEN ARE CODING FOR TOMORROW | 2016


Good morning ladies and gentlemen. It’s a pleasure to be with you today. I am thankful from Oslo Freedom Forum to giving me this opportunity to share the journey of my life. I didn’t start out wanting to change the world. I start out as a shy and curious girl in Afghanistan. As many of you know, a girl in Afghanistan is given a few opportunities to imagine anything but serving the life of her husband and house. I was lucky enough to find a way around of this. As I child, I always I heard a rumor of somethings would change up my life. I hear there is a box that you can talk and you can learn about the people you can ask a question without meeting with them and they don’t care who you were and even care that you are a girl. This stayed with me for my childhood and then when I was 16 years old I had opportunity to try it by myself. A friend of mine asked me to go to the internet café in Herat to try something we call it Yahoo messenger. We went to only internet café in Herat. We were the only women there and to my amusement the rumor was true. For the first time I realized that there are more than what was around of me. And right then I became determined to make somehow technology the center of my career. You see, this is what it means to be a woman in Afghanistan. You have to stay at the home. You can only talk with other women or only men at the home. After the first time of using the internet I selected computer science as my career at the university. After study, I started working for the government and university and eventually I was able to start my own software development company. My company grew and I could hire a lot of the women who are programmers and bloggers and I could become the first female tech CEO in Afghanistan. Quite frankly, being a female tech CEO anywhere in the world will introduce you to some barriers. But in Afghanistan a place that the women are not supposed to work outside, the attack against me was devastating both personally and professionally. It was hard for us to get a job from the people who didn’t want to work with the women and when we could bring a client they often refused to pay for the work we did for them. They threatened my employees and I. They put a spy on us and sometimes I feel it like too much. But if I was quiet, what message I could send to other girls who want to have the same career like I did? So my employees and I find a way to protected ourselves and continue the work that we loved. There were countless obstacles but I finally realized the career that I dreamed as a girl. I still know there are millions of girls that are out there just like me. They are curious but they are given a narrow vision to explore the world. They are wanting to know more but they don’t know what is truly possible. I wanted to share the success that I realized when I was younger. To give these girls who are like me a door that opened to the rest of the world. So I started a nonprofit organization called Digital Citizen Fund to provide technology access for these women and girls and train them to learn about social media basic coding and they can also learn about financial literacy. I know this is what I needed to do but it wouldn’t be easy. There was one time we selected a village in Herat to building IT center inside. The principal of the school got very happy. The students were looking forward to working with us, but the parents were not. All they had heard was that internet promotes bad values. This is a message that conservative leaders and local Taliban spread to kick out the Western ideas. The community turned on anyone who wanted to support our project and they told them they have no control on their own daughters. The parents started to protest it and it got the attention of the local Taliban. They begin to threaten my employees and me. They believe that with fear they can drive us away but the power of what we teach was too great to submit to those threats. When I see for the first time a girl go online it always brings back vivid memories of the first time in the internet café in Herat. You can literally see in their face the changes. These girls and these women they have entire life only spoke to close relatives and only friends, but instead of that they are open to the world to share their stories. These girls and woman their entire life depending on the men, but now they can feel for the first time the financial independence. This has the power to dramatically change how conservative societies see and treat a woman. I want to tell you a story, a story of one of our students. We called her Parisa. She came from a very traditional family. Her family believed that she belongs to the home, but she was curious girl just like me. She wanted to know what’s going on outside. She started to take one of our computer classes in secret and absolutely her family couldn’t find out. She learned about IT skills and she started writing the blogs and stories. And her blog and stories was good enough that she could start to make revenue with that. She was very proud of herself and she find a way that she can support her family. So she not only decided to tell her family that she has been taking the computer class, she also took the money and gave to her father. He was so angry. Where does the money comes from? He demanded and he didn’t believe her. So she brought him to the classes and finally he saw that she’s telling the truth to him. And he saw that what she was accomplishing on her own. He never thought that his daughter has the capable of this. And she has this talent or she can be independent person. It has never occurred to him that she can provide for herself. Seeing her, what she can accomplish, and how she could change her entire family perception of a woman. Today we have a program in Afghanistan and Mexico. And we wanted to extend to other countries because we wanted to make sure every woman around of the world has a voice in the global conversation. This is the big problem to be sure, but the solution starts small. Think about Parisa’s story. How she came to the computer class and how she could change the entire family’s perception of a woman. The change is radical, but the idea isn’t. Give everyone the chance to imagine a better life and build it for themselves. Thank you.

3 thoughts to “ROYA MAHBOOB | HOW AFGHAN WOMEN ARE CODING FOR TOMORROW | 2016”

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *