Being a girl in the Middle East

Growing up in Iran and Afghanistan, Fereshteh Forough discovered a passion for technology that was difficult to pursue in the face of the many cultural and societal obstacles she faced. These hurdles included the lack of a safe learning environment, travel and social restrictions as well as an overwhelmingly patriarchal society standing in her way.

“The majority of families prefer that their daughter becomes a teacher because it’s a respected, well-paying job in the community where women only work with other women,” explains Forough, an Afghan refugee who lived in Iran before returning to her home country.  

But the determined young woman overcame those roadblocks to receive her bachelor’s degree in computer science from Herat University in Afghanistan, followed by a master’s in Information Technology from the Technical University of Berlin in Germany.

“I always wanted to give back to my community and be an advocate for women’s education and equal access to resources.”

Pushing the boundaries of inspiration

In January 2015, Forough founded a non-profit dedicated to empowering girls to pursue science, technology, engineering and math called Code to Inspire (CTI). “I always wanted to give back to my community and be an advocate for women’s education and equal access to resources,” Forough says. Later that year she opened the first coding school for girls in Afghanistan. The school sought out to educate Afghan women with in-demand programming skills, empower them to contribute their skills to their communities and inspire them to strive for financial and social independence.

“Our goal is to graduate every student and help all of them find employment while creating a strong community where our students learn important skills,” she says. “Our graduates stay in close contact with the organization, sharing their stories and professional experiences with current and potential students.”

A bright future on the horizon

The school prepares women for the job market by providing the professional skills they need to succeed, including teaching them to navigate freelance platforms, how to develop a social media presence, write resumes, compile portfolios and work in a professional setting.

Forough’s school also offers a job-driven curriculum consisting of Web Development, Mobile Application Development, Gaming, Graphics and Designs. “This gives our students access to the millions of available jobs on the online global marketplace,” Forough explains. “Our goal is to prepare CTI students to be competitive in the job market and hold their own economically.”

Today, CTI serves 80 female students ranging in age from 14 to 25 in Herat, Afghanistan. The school operates in a war zone where literacy rates are 38 percent across the entire population, and less than 20 percent among women.

Forough is proud to be able to provide a safe and secure learning environment that includes modern computers and internet access for students, with in-person professional mentors available every day. 

“As one of our high school students recently told us, ‘I feel more powerful from the very first day I started writing code,’” says Forough, who urges girls to not allow their gender or ethnic background to hold them back. “Knowledge is power, and technology is the tool for this empowerment.”