An all-female Afghan robotics team that made headlines in recent years as a symbol of a more progressive Afghanistan is frantically trying to escape the country following the Taliban takeover.
“These girls are extremely terrified,” said New York-based international human rights attorney Kimberley Motley. told Canadian Broadcast News on Sunday. The girls on the team want to go to Canada to complete their education and Motley is trying to help them.
“They are in Herat, where now, in the universities, they are rejecting girls,” Motley said. “They are telling the girls, ‘Don’t go back to college.’ Women show up for work and are turned away. They are watching this and with tears in their eyes as their city collapses. ”
The Taliban captured the girls’ hometown of Herat, Afghanistan’s third-largest city and a strategic provincial capital, as fighters approached the capital of Kabul. Taliban fighters took control of Kabul on Sunday, almost officially sealing their takeover of the entire country. This video from NBC It shows members of the militant group passing by Herat’s historic Blue Mosque towards the government buildings.
Afghan Tech Entrepreneur Roya Mahboob started the Afghan Girls Robotics Team, called the Afghan Dreamers, in 2017. Mahboob heads the Digital Citizen Fund, which offers classes for girls in STEM and robotics.
The team members, who are between 12 and 18 years old, have overcome war and other difficulties to pursue their love of engineering and robotics and strike a blow at gender equality and national pride.
This CNET video shows them accepting the silver medal for “brave achievements” at a 2018 international robotics competition. Other teams had four months to build their robots, but the Afghanistan team, twice denied visas to the United States until a late intervention of The Trump administration had just two weeks to build and ship its ball sorting robot to Washington, DC.
During the coronavirus pandemic, the team worked on an inexpensive fan using old auto parts. Design, inspired by work on an MIT emergency ventilatorIt is low-tech, so it can be replicated around the world with local products.
Motley has worked in Afghanistan since 2008, successfully handling criminal and civil cases there. She says she fears for the future of the young roboticists now that Afghan President Ashraf Ghani has fled the country, leaving the Taliban in power and parts of the country in panic and chaos.
“Unfortunately, what has been happening to girls this past week is that the Taliban have been literally going door to door and taking girls out and forcing them to become child brides. We are very, very concerned that will happen. With these Afghan girls Robotics Team, these girls who want to be engineers, want to be in the AI community. They dare to dream, to succeed. ”
As my CNET colleague Katie Collins, Taliban spokesperson Suhail Shaheen, reports for the past two daysto say that Taliban soldiers have been ordered not to enter people’s homes and have called reports that soldiers are forcing young women to marry as “poisonous propaganda”. The story Shaheen tells on Twitter is at odds with both the news reports on the ground in Afghanistan and the fear expressed by Afghan citizens.
“We are deeply concerned for Afghan women and girls, their rights to education, work and freedom of movement,” the White House said in a statement issued Wednesday. “We call on those in positions of power and authority throughout Afghanistan to ensure their protection.”