Twenty-four female teenagers from the Middle East and North Africa spent the past three weeks in the United States learning technology and leadership skills in a Department of State program that didn’t include any girls from Israel.
The girls came from Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, the Palestinian territories, Tunisia and Yemen. After applying, they were accepted into the program following interviews at their local embassy or consulate.
The United States Embassy for Israel is located in Tel Aviv, but it also has a consulate in Jerusalem, which deals mainly with the Palestinians, explained a spokesman for the Department of State. This program went through the consulate and “was not open to Israeli applicants,” he said.
When asked why Israeli girls were excluded, the spokesman replied, “The program is focused on empowering women and empowering Arab teen girls.”
The three-year-old program has never had an Israeli participant, the spokesman said.
During the program, which ran from July 31 to Aug. 22, the Arab girls shadowed women working in their technology jobs. The teens spent one week at a technology camp at American University, traveled to New York City to network with women working at Yahoo and Tumblr and spent time in Washington, D.C., at such companies as AT&T, Verizon, Facebook and the Federal Communications Commission.
Talks and visits also were held with Bank of America, Bully Pulpit Initiative, Corporation for Community and National Service, DoSomething.org, Hell’s Kitchen Farm Project, Girls Who Code, Google, National Building Museum and Tech Change.
The program was designed to help them “make important personal contacts and to expand their networks to compete equally in an often male-dominated field,” according to a press release from the State Department. The goal is to advance the rights of women and girls throughout the world in science, technology, engineering and math as part of a U.S. global commitment, according to the press release.
Jason Isaacson, associate executive director at AJC, called TechGirls “a worthy project,” noting that it was designed not just for Arab women to learn technology but also to empower them.
Part of the program shows the participants how to advance in societies, unlike in Israel, in which women haven’t necessarily been successful before, he said.
“It really is designed for the Arab world,” he said.
The girls who participated in this month’s program were varied and included a taekwondo black belt, several Red Crescent volunteers and a ping pong champion, the spokesman said.
Since the program began in 2011 under then-Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, more than 50 TechGirls alumni shared their newly honed skills with some 2,000 girls in their home countries, the spokesman said. The graduates also have hosted conferences and gone on to study technology in universities around the world.