Women in Afghanistan Given an Online Voice
By Deborah Jackson
March 31, 2014
Roya Mahboob, named one of Time magazine’s 100 most influential people, for creating a software company that pays Afghani women for blogging, is determined to give women an electronic voice despite the Taliban’s threats to crack down on the limited progress women living there have made in recent years.
“I just make myself more invisible in society, while becoming more visible on the Internet,” Mahboob, 26, told Businessweek magazine in a recent interview.
First world women take easy, free and unlimited access to the internet for granted. But, for hundreds of millions of women around the world, access to technology is the only way they can find critical information about healthcare, finances and education. Connecting online with the outside world provides a powerful sense of freedom to women who are otherwise forbidden from working, driving or even leaving their homes without a male relative.
In Afghanistan, a country of 30 million people, only 1.5 million people have internet access. That’s a small increase from one million people with online access in 2010. (According to the World Bank, there are only 5.5 web users per 100 Afghanis, compared with 10 per 100 people in neighboring Pakistan).
The landlocked and politically unstable country lacks basic telecommunications infrastructure. And, even if people could access the internet, buying a computer is nearly impossible with a per capita income of only $622 a year, according to the International Monetary Fund.
Mahboob’s ‘Women’s Annex’ site is attracting supporters because bloggers can earn between $5 and $100 a day, depending on how popular their writing is based on a scoring system she designed. (In contrast, an Afghani construction worker earns only $5.70 a day, according to the United Nations. Collecting opium gum from poppies earns workers about $12 a day).
Why should Americans care about maintaining internet access in countries like Afghanistan? It’s critical because the Taliban is threatening to once again forbid girls from attending school when U.S. forces pull out at the end of this year.
Despite the challenges, organizations like Women for Women International continue to work in Afghanistan. Afshan Khan, chief executive officer of Women for Women International, told Businessweek she is fearful women are losing ground in Afghanistan. Her non-profit group, based in Washington, DC, has trained nearly 50,000 women, helping them start small businesses. In addition to skill training WFW has provided about $26 million in micro-loans and grants.
Being a woman in Afghanistan is incredibly challenging beyond lack of access to technology. It wasn’t until 2009 when President Hamid Karzai decreed for the first time, that rape would be considered a crime. He also banned forced marriage, child marriage and ensured women would have the right to attend school or work. Unfortunately, the Afghani Parliament has yet to ratify these reforms because conservative lawmakers consider them un-Islamic.
Deborah Jackson is the Founder and CEO of Plum Alley, an e-commerce and crowd-funding site for women’s innovation, and a Co-Founder of the Women Innovate Mobile Accelerator– an accelerator investing in women-founded mobile-tech companies. http://www.PlumAlley.co