The Department of Homeland Security has issued humanitarian paroles to the Afghan all-girls robotics team that had been previously denied State Department visas to come to Washington DC for an international robotics competition. The girls have now arrived in the United States for ten days to compete in the FIRST Global Challenge.
The decision came after mounting criticism directed at the Trump administration and the State Department. Many believed that denying visas to the Afghan all-girls team sent the wrong message, counteracting the work of the United States and many women’s organizations who have been pushing for the equality of women in Afghanistan.
The Feminist Majority Foundation, Women for Afghan Women and 18 other feminist organizations, signed a letter pushing back on the denial of the visas. The letter emphasized the need for the U.S. to revisit its visa policy towards Afghanistan to ensure the U.S. leads by example both in promoting STEM programs and in its worldwide support of young women seeking educational, technological, and economic empowerment.
“We’re beyond thrilled that this courageous team of talented and educated Afghan girls is able to compete in the FIRST Global Challenge,” said Eleanor Smeal, president of the Feminist Majority Foundation. “This is one issue that should remain bipartisan. Afghan women and girls, with the support of the feminist movement worldwide, have worked so hard to increase girls’ education opportunities and now millions of Afghan girls are going to school and college. It’s about time that the world recognizes and respects their talents.”
Representative Joe Courtney and Representative Suzanne Bonamici also spearheaded a Congressional Dear Colleague letter addressed to Secretary of State Rex Tillerson urging him to reconsider the State Department’s decision to deny the Afghani girls robotics team visas. The letter was signed by 53 other House members and stressed the importance of empowering women’s education. “Supporting women’s educational initiatives has been a vital component of our diplomacy and has been proven to enhance stability and speed development more than almost any policy focus,” wrote the members.
The team of six teenage girls has been working hard for months to build a robot to compete in the international robotics competition. The girls have faced obstacles at almost every turn, yet the group remains determined to pursue their passions. “We want to make a difference and most breakthroughs in science, technology, and other industries normally start with the dream of a child to do something great,” the team wrote on their competition page.
Media Resources: The Verge 7/13/17; BBC 7/13/17; Politico 7/12/17; Al Jazeera 7/13/17; Feminist Majority Foundation 7/6/17