#GIRLHERO Fereshteh Forough: Increasing Girls’ Access to STEM Education in Afghanistian

International Day of the Girl

This is a guest blog by Ileana Valdez. Ileana is a student at the School for the Talented and Gifted Magnet in Dallas, TX. She hopes to become a software engineer, and she traveled with Girl Up this summer for the WiSci Girls STEAM Camp in Rwanda. She will be entering her third year of computer science this year and has participated in 10 computer science competitions.

I recently had the honor of interviewing Fereshteh Forough. Fereshteh is the Founder and CEO of Code to Inspire, Afghanistan’s first coding school for girls. She is an advocate for women’s rights and a leader in women’s empowerment. Despite the cultural barriers in Afghanistan that can keep women from pursuing STEM careers, Fereshteh worked hard to establish herself as a successful engineer. She is my #GIRLHERO because she proved that girls can accomplish anything and that every boundary can be overcome!

Fereshteh gives me hope that someday I will become an engineer. I now know that I don’t have to be restrained by the opinions of others, I can work hard, accomplish great things and change people’s minds about women in STEM through my actions, just like Fereshteh is doing.

Ileana Valdez: Being a girl, was it hard for you to develop a successful STEM career?

Fereshteh Forough: Yes, living in Afghanistan, a country with a strong traditional history, made it difficult to be in that field of study. Besides the gender gap issue and the very few number of women in STEM, there are also many cultural barriers that prevent women to grow. As an example, many customers who are mainly men don’t trust and believe in a woman’s ability in tech. They think women are not capable to develop applications or any software related programs. They think it is something only for men. Also, many safety and security issues make it almost impossible for women to travel outside of their home town. This makes it difficult if a women wants to pursue a career or gets a job offer because the majority of families won’t let their daughters travel by herself or live in another city without having a close family member there.

IV: Who is your #GIRLHERO? Why?

FF: My #GIRLHERO is an Afghan girl, who is a peddler and sells goods in the street part time to support her family financially but also continues to go to school because she believes that with an education she can build a brighter future for herself and her family. My #GIRLHERO is an Afghan girl who lives in a village and walks several kilometers to go to the school, sitting in a tent under the hot summer and cold winter but she believes that the education can empower her and let her achieve her dreams to build a school one day.

IV: What pushed you to found Code to Inspire?

FF: Social, cultural and traditional barriers in Afghanistan, especially for women in working places and in the tech industry made me think about establishing a place that is safe and secure for female students. At this place students could study, learn, communicate and work as a team in an educational environment. They would not only learn technical skills but also boost their self esteem and find job employment opportunities as freelancers online. With an education they wouldn’t need to worry as much about all challenges that limit them to take part in global economy. The only thing they need is a computer and Internet connection.

IV: How do you motivate yourself to become better, to inspire others and to keen dreaming?

FF: I believe mistakes are great teachers. I always try to learn from my mistakes and not be disappointed. Life is a learning process. I try to read about the life of inspirational people and those who change the world in a great way. I believe dreamers are achievers.

IV: What do you hope every for every girl in the world?

FF: I hope every girl in the world has an equal opportunity to go to school and access an education without the fear of being threatened or being prevented by their community. I hope it would be part of every girls’ dream to sit in a classroom and create her future the way she wants to. To educate a girl is to educate a family, a society, a country and the whole world.