Afghan robotics girls team hopes to encourage future engineers

The six teenagers are showcasing the first-ever robot made by an all-girls team in Afghanistan at a three-day international Robot Olympics in Washington.

Photo by: AP
Photo by: AP

Girls from the Afghanistan Robotic House, a private training institute, practise at the Better Idea Organization centre in Herat, Afghanistan, July 6, 2017.

It is an uphill battle, getting rid of gender barriers in the fields of science. The last 12 months have seen saw some progress in women moving towards the mainstream.

Hollywood movie Hidden Figures told the story of a team of African-American mathematician women and the work they did for NASA; astrophysicist Dr Nergis Mavalvala made some waves for her role in the first observation of gravitational waves; and the BBC announced Jodie Whittaker as the first female Doctor Who  – all nods of encouragement to girls everywhere.

Afghan robotics team

Six Afghan girls are taking it further by taking down cultural and gender barriers. The all-girls robotics team landed in the United States on Saturday after their visas applications to attend the first International Robot Olympics in Washington were rejected twice.

From Herat province in Afghanistan, the girls started robotics classes in January and produced their own robot within two weeks. For a country more known for drugs, war and oppressed women, the fact that this is the first robot made by an all-girls team will help inspire the next generation of female engineers, the girls hope.

"Since our visas were refused two times, our message to the groups that come after us will be that they should never be disappointed if their visa is rejected the first or even the second time," team member Lida Azizi said. "They should always work hard in order to achieve their goal and not give up."

The girls will present a robot they devised that can recognise blue and orange and sort balls into correct locations. They will compete against entrants from more than 150 countries in the three-day competition.

TRT World’s Chelsea Carter reports.

A personal intervention

US President Donald Trump's personal intervention earlier in the week used a rare "parole" mechanism to sidestep the visa system ended the dramatic saga in which the team twice travelled from their home in western Afghanistan through largely Taliban-controlled territory to Kabul, where their visa applications were denied twice.

Trump has been embroiled in controversy over his efforts to restrict immigration from several Muslim-majority countries.

Only teams from Afghanistan and the Gambia were denied visas. 

A limited version of Trump's travel ban on visitors from Iran, Libya, Somalia, Sudan, Syria and Yemen recently took effect, after the US Supreme Court allowed it to be enforced pending a full hearing in October. 

TRTWorld, Reuters