The young women from Afghanistan are part of a program educating girls on how to make games and apps to support the increase of female representation in the gaming industry. ‘Afghan Hero Girl’, the worth mentioning accomplishment so far, is a mobile phone game where a princess in a green veil must defeat a wizard and save her family. Afghani women coders are inspiring young girls to play their role in gaming industry.
Like the princess who jumps over obstacles and throws daggers at wicked wizards in the video game they created, a group of women coders in patriarchal Afghanistan aspires to encourage a generation of young girls to destroy barriers.
Afghani Women Coders are Inspiring Girls
The young ladies are a member of an after-school coaching program called ‘Code to Inspire‘ in the western city of Herat, where they get technical skills and build games and apps to teach girls across Afghanistan and beyond.
Their most surprising achievement has been this year’s release of Afghan Hero Girl, a mobile phone app developed over six months by 12 young women in which a princess wearing a green veil jump around a collapsing castle in a hunt to defeat a wizard and save her family.
Fereshteh Forough, the founder and CEO of Code to Inspire, says she understands from experience how revolutionary it can be to just get resources or an opportunity if you’re underprivileged. Particularly if that opportunity is education. She said students were done with the absence of female representation in the gaming industry and told her they were tired of “playing games where men are superheroes”.
The game describes “the difficulties and restrictions that women are facing every day in Afghanistan and despite all the consequences they keep struggling and going through it,” says Forough, who is now based in New York.
Forough perceives technical skills as having an innovative potential in a country where girls often have only inadequate educational opportunities, internet access is inconsistent and women face strongly inherent discrimination at every front.
Like many Afghans, she worries about an ultimate return to the rule of the Taliban, who during their ruthlessly oppressive control in the 1990s outlawed women from working or working outside the house.
“By learning how to code you can do online remote work from the safety of your house if you [can] access the internet,” she says. “The job that we do … is about equality, empowerment, and development so that these young women can play their role in their communities and struggle for their social, political and economic equality.”
Women’s rights and education for girls have made notable accomplishments since the downfall of the Taliban almost two decades ago, but difficulties remain as the rebels often attack girls’ schools and threaten female students.
The Goal of Code to Inspire
Afghanistan’s continuous war, now in its 19th year, resulted in more than 1,000 schools being closed by the end of 2018, UNICEF says, depriving some 500,000 kids of their right to education. An excessive number of these, about 60 percent are girls.
“In the worst-case scenario, if the Taliban restrict women’s contribution in the workspace, [tech is] a skill that can get them beyond their doorsteps,” Forough says.
The games and apps are both educational and entertaining. Some include memories of the coders or are based on true stories.
For example, in the Fight Against Opium game, soldiers are deployed on a mission to poppy-growing Helmand province. It was based on a real-life story of one of the coders’ siblings who was deployed to the southern province.
“My main goal as a game and app developer is to make as many educational games for girls as possible,” Code to Inspire student Nasrin Wahidy says, who attends the Herat school where the program is based. “We want the girls to learn and get educated faster through games.”
Another game shows young Afghans how to understand the geography of their country by explaining to them where each province is located. So far, Code to Inspire has trained more than 150 students to code, make games and apps, and develop websites.
“They will become a digital citizen of the world without considering geographical boundaries,” Forough says.
The challenge is that a large number of these girls who graduate and have the skills can’t find a job because many firms would rather hire men. They believe men are more competent or have a more solid resume, and girls are not permitted or able to move easily within the country because of the Taliban. But they can still make income working online.
To support its students overcome this, Code to Inspire actively tries partnerships with businesses, studios, and people both within and outside the country that are looking for entrepreneurs or freelancers to complete small projects that are a great fit for striving developers.
For the future, Forough is striving to continue to expand the school in Herat with each new class, as well as open more campuses of Code to Inspire everywhere in Afghanistan – building a “network of women who can support each other.