Technology: An Agent of Change for Women in Developing Areas
EDITOR’S NOTE: THIS PIECE IS AUTHORED BY Roya Mahboob, CEO of Afghan Citadel Software Company and FOUNDER OF THE DIGITAL CITIZEN FUND. THIS PIECE IS PART OF A SERIES EXPLORING THE SUSTAINABLE DEVELOPMENT GOALS. SEE THE INTRODUCTION TO THE SERIES HERE.
Imagine a world where boys and girls learn side-by-side, no matter the circumstances of their environment and surroundings. The opportunities provided by internet access and education are equally available to everyone and the individual dreams of every child were within the reach of anyone who was willing to work hard enough to reach their goals.
PHOTO: Through the Digital Citizen Fund women gain valuable and employable skills; earn money online and a digital voice to transforming their lives and value. PHOTO CREDIT: Digital Citizen Fund
Unfortunately, this dream is not a reality for many women and girls, especially those in the areas where I grew up. Education was not a readily accessible commodity for girls in Afghanistan, and most girls’ dreams were limited to an early, arranged marriage and domestic life. While this opportunity is enough for some, most girls are not given any other options for their future. They are not given the chance to dream of anything else because of a lack of education and resources.
While this was good enough for some, I knew that I could accomplish so much more if given the chance. However, there was no one for me to look up to that had already accomplished this dream. No women that I knew had ever achieved the type of things that I wanted to do. Without role models, I had no alternative but to be the role model that other women could look up to. When I was introduced to the internet at the age of 16, I knew that an entirely new world had opened up to me. It was a world of equality and opportunity that changed my life forever.
PHOTO: Female students design and create their own Superheroes, learn graphic design, and as well as business and marketing. PHOTO CREDIT: Digital Citizen Fund
With the support of my family, I was able to go to school and quickly became interested in the world of technology and the vast opportunities that it presented. Not satisfied with just basic knowledge of technology and internet, I was driven to study more and dive deeper. After graduating from university, I reached the first step of my goals when I became the IT director of my university. This was a dream come true, but I knew that I was not finished yet. My work with the university whetted my appetite for more and larger IT projects and opportunities. The next step of my success came in Kabul, where I became a project coordinator for the Ministry of Higher Education IT department. This gave me great experience in the world of technology, and the fact that I held this position was revolutionary for an Afghan woman. However, the hard work, perseverance and determination it took to make it to this stage of my career would not have been enough if I had not had the resources and opportunities to explore the Internet and technology as a teenager.
Related article: “EDUCATION: A COMMITTED FUTURE“
My career was destined for even greater things, when in 2010, I started my first software development company. Because of my desire to see women succeed in the technology industry, I made it a priority to hire women programmers and bloggers. Through the efforts of many of these women, my company thrived and grew and I became the first female CEO of a tech company to ever come from Afghanistan.
One could imagine that once a woman has reached the level of CEO, there would be fewer obstacles and discrimination than previously. However, the difficulties I had faced in lower level jobs were still present even though I was now a CEO of my own company. As a woman, I had fewer resources and limited access to the funds and loans I needed to move things forward. While facing the struggles that every other CEO faces, whether man or woman, there were also many limiting factors in my culture and barriers that stifled the professional growth I sought so hard to achieve. We suffered not only discrimination, but we were followed, spied on and threatened. Yet these things can indeed be overcome and I believe that every woman should have that chance.
PHOTO: Hawze-Karbas High School, IT Training/Coding Centers PHOTO CREDIT: Digital Citizen Fund
Although I dealt with many challenges and limiting treatment in my culture, the opportunities that I had through the avenue of technology helped to break down the barriers and open up new pathways for success in my career. It is this truth that has led me to the beliefs I embrace today.
The greatest asset that technology brings to the women of Afghanistan and other similar countries is the breaking down of borders and limitations. While cultural barriers threaten the dreams and aspirations of young women and girls, the opportunities they can find through the internet show them a larger world than the one that they have always known. Through education, they see the world for what it really is and the courage to dream big and follow their dreams can blossom and grow. When I embraced the global information society, I found a bigger world than the borders of my country or the future of only a domestic life. By expanding my business across the world and with other nations, I became a part of something bigger than myself. I became a digital global citizen.
For a full mindmap containing additional related articles and photos, visit #SDGStories
Photo Credit: Digital Citizen Fund
The hardships I have had to overcome throughout my career and the opportunities that I have found and shared with so many other women have spurred me to even greater dreams. At end of 2013, I started the Digital Citizen Fund (formerly the Women’s Annex Foundation), whose goal was to provide digital access and education for women in developing countries. These women often have no other recourse when pursuing a career in technology. The 13 IT centers that the DCF has built have successfully trained over 9,000 women with access, education and support to increase their worldview and see their world without borders. Their dreams and passion have made the journey of the DCF worthwhile. Going forward, the Digital Citizen Fund will go to greater lengths to provide more training and resources to women in more developing countries. They will no longer be bound by the borders of their country and forced only to dream small dreams.
As the nations of the world join hands to grow together and increase sustainability, the United Nations has put forth 17 Sustainable Development Goals. These are principles, which when implemented, will fundamentally change the nations of the world and give increasing opportunities to the generations, which follow. Transformation of the world requires the commitment and partnership of all member groups. The Digital Citizen Fund is committed to seeing these goals implemented not just as ideas, but as real life principles. The leadership of the DCF in educating and providing support for women of developing countries falls has a direct relationship to Goal #4 of the Sustainable Development Goals. These principles state that all should be ensured inclusive and equitable quality education. The DCF has proven their dedication to this goal and their success can be seen the careers of the women whose lives have been changed because of technology and the IT centers of the DCF. While no one foundation can singlehandedly change the foundation of education, through hard work and partnership, we will continue to see further success in this industry. We are committed to changing the poor quality of education in developing countries and providing women with access to funding for their education and jobs that provide the skills that they need for sustainable employment for themselves, their families and their communities.
PHOTO: Through our program women gain valuable and employable skills; earn money online and a digital voice. PHOTO CREDIT: Digital Citizen Fund
Not only has the DCF implemented the United Nations Sustainable Goal #4 in real life, but they have also led the way in providing equality for women in developing countries. This is directly related to the fifth goal of the UN Development goals. By providing access to technology and education, the DCF has taken serious steps toward empowering all women and girls. No longer are their dreams limited to the world that they have always known. Because of the Digital Citizen Fund, thousands of women and girls have been able to realize the opportunities that allowed me to become the person that I am today.
While the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN are noble, they are far-reaching in their vision to change the world. I believe that the real-world implementation of these goals requires an individualized approach to the needs of each society. Every society is unique and success in the vision of the SDGs constrains local government, the private sector, and non-profit organizations to all work together in seeking the best for a particular society. The real impact of the SDGs comes with a localized approach that reaches to the individual community and then to the greater world.
Nothing worthwhile has ever been achieved without hard work. My career has been unusual and groundbreaking for a woman from a developing country. I have done what no one else before me ever had. But this does not mean that it is not possible for another to do even greater things. Each woman that embraces education and pursues her goals has the same chance that I did. Any one of the women that are now learning about technology in an IT center of the DCF could be the next great tech CEO. It is this dream of the future that drives the Digital Citizen Fund.
Sustainability and the change that the world desperately needs are accessible, largely through the means of technology and the global information society. I have seen the difference that it has made in my life and it is a vision that I share with many women all over the world. The bridge between success and status quo is education and only this will truly bring equality to women all over the world.
George Washington Carver, a revolutionary leader of hard work, change and equality, said that “where there is no vision, there is no hope.” Without a vision to change the future and provide education and equality for the millions of women in developing countries all over the world, there would be no hope for real change. As the United Nations and the world look to implement the Sustainable Development Goals that will unite the world in change and hope, the Digital Citizen Fund leads the way in providing these opportunities to the women who desperately need them.