Guest post: This piece is authored by Roya Mahboob, CEO of Afghan Citadel Software and founder of the Digital Citizen Fund.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
Roya will be joining us to present at the Financial Inclusion Summit Asia on 19th-19th April at Suntec Convention Centre in Singapore. To find out more about to book your ticket, check out our website.