Since the Taliban regained power in Afghanistan, a series of uncertainties hovered in the lives of the people who live in that country. It is difficult to follow, even from afar, the rights of citizens being violated in such a brutal way, especially girls and women who have their achievements at risk.

The girls wonder if they will stay in school, the women question if they will need to quit their jobs and a whole society is scared with everything that has been going on.

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This is because in the last Taliban government (1996-2001) women were prohibited from working. After Islamic militants were removed from power in 2001, they gained the right to go to university, have a career and a job. To give you an idea, at the beginning of 2021, 27% of the seats in the national parliament were occupied by women. There was an advance in women's leadership without the presence of extremists. But now, if nothing is done, we will see a sad setback.

I have been talking here about how important it is for women to conquer their speaking place, occupy leadership positions and have space in the technology market. Although we have so many differences, especially cultural ones, women in both Brazil and Afghanistan are fighting the same battle: the fight for more equality.

Technological advances and women's rights threatened

One of the cries for help that echoes around the world comes from a group of 25 Afghan girls, between 12 and 18 years old, and their mentors. They have been fighting war, terrorism and gender discrimination to emerge as a symbol of a new Afghanistan that advocates education for girls.

This group formed the first female robotics team in a country where the development of science was never a priority, let alone being led by girls and women.

All this was possible because of the project "Afghan Dreamers”, a US-based NGO that helps girls and women in developing countries gain access to technology and offers classes in subjects such as science, engineering, math and robotics.

Afghan Dreamers
Afghan dreamers. Credits: UNICEF/UNI363792/Aryan

In Afghanistan, the project was centered in Herat, in the west of the country, to promote science and empower Afghan girls in a place where the role of women was limited to the home during the Taliban's previous stint in power.

The project was so important that, in 2017, it won the silver medal at the Special Prize of the International Robotics Championship, held in Washington. While the other teams took four months to assemble their designs, they drew up in two weeks, having to deal with various hurdles, like having their equipment confiscated in Afghanistan.

As a result, they received international attention, as they came from a country where women and girls did not have basic rights, but strength, will and education made them overcome obstacles to participate in the competition in the United States.

Robotics as a means of helping your country

As the coronavirus pandemic raged across the world, they joined together to address a need in their country: the lack of artificial respirators. Afghan dreamers began building respirators using a design by Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) engineers, as well as car parts and accessories.

It is worth mentioning that they worked on the project while fasting, as they were in Ramadan, and isolated due to social distance, but they did not fail to make the initiative happen and save people with covid-19.

Now, this promising project in a land of little hope is collapsing. Like thousands of people who tried to leave Afghanistan, the group of young robotics scientists also left their country and, separated, found asylum in Mexico and Qatar.

What is at stake

For me, a woman and a mother of girls, it is a shock to see dreams being shattered in this way. After all, for the past 20 years, we've seen Afghan women join society as students, teachers, government officials, police officers and business owners – with the 2004 constitution enshrining that “Afghan citizens, men and women, have equal rights. and duties under the law. ”

In 2003, the new government ratified the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women, which requires countries to incorporate gender equality into their domestic legal codes.

Faced with the Taliban's return to power, the dream of a more egalitarian country falls to the ground. Now, robotics girls depend on other nations to follow futures that have everything to be promising.

May they continue to dream and carry out innovative projects that improve everyone's lives. And that they are not the last girls and women to transform the reality of their country.

*Letícia Piccolotto is Executive President of Fundação BRAVA and founder of BrazilLAB – the first GovTech innovation hub that connects startups with government

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