The Afghan girls’ robotics team that struggled to get U.S. approval to enter the country for an international competition were granted silver medals on Tuesday for their “courageous achievement”.
Their robots name was Better Idea of Afghan Girls, and while other teams had four months to build their robots, the six teenagers from Afghanistan had a mere two-weeks after their package of supplies was detained out of suspicion.
After the State Department denied the girls visas twice, widespread condemnation from feminist and humanitarian groups successfully put public pressure on the Department of Homeland Security to issue humanitarian paroles that allowed the girls to enter the country.
The Feminist Majority Foundation, Women for Afghan Women and 18 other feminist organizations signed a letter pushing back on the denial of visas and emphasizing the need for the U.S. to revisit its visa policy towards Afghanistan to ensure the US leads by example both in promoting STEM programs and in its worldwide support of young women seeking educational, technological, and economic empowerment.
Many international teams faced hurdles to make it to the competition, and visa applications were originally denied to members of at least 60 teams. Multiple teams had to quickly rebuild their robots as they had either been disassembled or lost during transit. An American high school stepped in to build a robot for the Iranian team after their shipment of supplies was stopped because of sanctions on technology exports
Sixty percent of the teams at the First Global Challenge were led, organized or founded by young women. 209 of the 830 participants were girls, with six all-girls teams from the US, Afghanistan, Ghana, Jordan, the Palestinian territories and Vanuatu, an island in the Pacific.
Media Resources: Feminist Majority Foundation 7/13/17; Al Jazeera 7/19/17; New York Times 7/18/17