APPROACHING GENDER PARITY: WOMEN IN COMPUTER SCIENCE AT AFGHANISTAN'S KABUL UNIVERSITY
Plane, Jandelyn Dawn
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This study explores the representation of women in computer science at the tertiary level through data collected about undergraduate computer science education at Kabul University in Afghanistan. Previous studies have theorized reasons for underrepresentation of women in computer science, and while many of these reasons are indeed present in Afghanistan, they appear to hinder advancement to degree to a lesser extent. Women comprise at least 36% of each graduating class from KU's Computer Science Department; however, in 2007 women were 25% of the university population. In the US, women comprise over 50% of university populations while only graduating on average 25% women in undergraduate computer science programs. Representation of women in computer science in the US is 50% below the university rate, but at KU, it is 50% above the university rate. This mixed methods study of KU was conducted in the following three stages: setting up focus groups with women computer science students, distributing surveys to all students in the CS department, and conducting a series of 22 individual interviews with fourth year CS students. The analysis of the data collected and its comparison to literature on university/department retention in Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics gender representation and on women's education in underdeveloped Islamic countries illuminates KU's uncharacteristic representation of women in its Computer Science Department. The retention of women in STEM through the education pipeline has several characteristics in Afghanistan that differ from countries often studied in available literature. Few Afghan students have computers in their home and few have training beyond secretarial applications before considering studying CS at university. University students in Afghanistan are selected based on placement exams and are then assigned to an area of study, and financially supported throughout their academic career, resulting in a low attrition rate from the program. Gender and STEM literature identifies parental encouragement, stereotypes and employment perceptions as influential characteristics. Afghan women in computer science received significant parental encouragement even from parents with no computer background. They do not seem to be influenced by any negative "geek" stereotypes, but they do perceive limitations when considering employment after graduation.