Today marks the International Day of the Girl Child and on this occasion we are reminded of the daily challenges facing girls around the world. Child, early, and forced marriage (CEFM) violates girls’ human rights and arises from and perpetuates gender inequality. CEFM has devastating repercussions for a girl’s life, effectively ending her childhood. Early marriage forces a girl into adulthood and motherhood before she is physically and mentally mature and before she completes her education, limiting her future options, depriving her of the chance to reach her full potential, and preventing her from contributing fully to her family and community. Today, we must recommit to our collective responsibility to create environments that enable girls and young women internationally to live up to their full potential. This means being free from violence, having access to basic services and quality education, and gaining skills to fully participate in their communities socially, politically and economically. The Secretary’s Office of Global Women’s Issues works in close coordination with partners across the U.S. government to ensure the support and empowerment of girls is central to our foreign policy efforts.
The United Nations theme for this October 11 is With Her: A Skilled GirlForce and I am immediately reminded of cadres of young women and girls working together – many against all odds – to be forces of positive change. But none resonates as close to my heart as the Afghan girls robotics team. As a daughter of Afghan refugees, there was a time I thought I would never travel to Afghanistan, let alone witness the burgeoning new generation of Afghan change makers. The Afghanistan girls robotics team is not only an example of the best and brightest in Afghanistan, but also the incredible untapped potential of girls in building prosperity and social change. In commemoration of this day, I had the great pleasure of interviewing the captain of the team, Fatemah Qaderyan. Fatemah is sixteen years old and attending the 11th grade in Herat, Afghanistan. At the age of thirteen, she wrote her first book called, “My Afghanistan,” and is currently working on a second book. The following are highlights of our conversation.
Where did you learn to develop Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts, and Math (STEAM) skills?
My team and I learned about STEAM education through a program run by the Digital Citizen Fund (DCF) and our coach was Alireza Mehraban. Digital Citizen Fund is a nonprofit organization that aims to increase women’s technological literacy and provide employment and educational opportunities for girls in Afghanistan. The founder and CEO of DCF is Roya Mahboob, who is also our team’s mentor.
Why did you decide to work on robots?
As a child, my world was filled with curiosities. I have had a boundless passion for understanding how the world works and deep fascination about robots. I watched documentaries about technology and robotics as a favorite pastime. I loved working on the programming and designing of robots. My biggest frustration is that we don’t have access to resources to get the necessary and appropriate equipment to develop prototypes. Sometimes we have to wait months to receive a device or get funding.
How would you describe adolescent life growing up in Afghanistan for you?
Growing up in Afghanistan I faced a lot of cultural barriers and security is still a big problem. For example, getting the permission of my family and having their support after my father was killed in a bombing by ISIS was challenging. He always encouraged me to keep pursuing my education and to be courageous.
Who has been your biggest influence or inspiration in your life and why?
My father was my hero. It has been a year since his passing, but I still can’t believe that he is gone. It seems to me that good people die before their time. He was my biggest supporter and my best friend who always made time to listen to me and answer my questions.
What message would you like to share with other girls around the world?
I would tell them to follow their dreams, work hard, and never give up. And always stand up for what you believe in.
What is your vision for the future of women and girls in Afghanistan in the next ten years?
I want to see a future where we as women are running the tech industry and have a lot of female engineers, inventors, and CEOs. I also envision a future in Afghanistan where the world knows us for its powerful female technology leaders and innovators and not as poor and uneducated women. I also hope to have more strong female decisions makers and policy makers.
About the Author: Lida Noory serves in the Secretary's Office of Global Women's Issues at the U.S. Department of State.
Editor's Note: This entry also appears in the U.S. Department of State's publication on Medium.