Since March 2018, a dozen female scientists in Kyrgyzstan have been working with computers, 3-D printers and soldering irons to build and launch the country’s first satellite before the year 2020. Their aim is to “reach for the stars” by building a CubeSat, a small satellite used for space exploration.
These young women are showing their country that gender isn’t a factor when it comes to engineering and science. Their work comes at a time when women make up less than 10% of Kyrgyzstan’s graduates in STEM, including construction and manufacturing. “I feel very proud that it’s going to be the first satellite of the country. I’m doing this program because I want to empower other girls,” student Kyzzhibek Batyrkanova, 23, said. “Your gender doesn’t have to determine what you have to do in this life.”
“Some girls don’t have the courage to pursue such studies because it’s not very common in our country, and the majority of parents discourage their daughters from pursuing this,” said Alina Anisimova, 19, who is leading the satellite project.
Women in Kyrgystan are discouraged from taking on careers in engineering and are pushed to marry and become housewives. According to global charity Girls Not Brides, nearly one in 10 girls in Kyrgystan is married before the age of 18.
Aidana Aidarbekova, a 19-year-old student participating in the project, said, “There are a lot of people who don’t believe that girls are capable of doing anything else but cleaning and cooking and giving birth to children.”
The project was started by a local media group, Kloop Media, after a suggestion from senior NASA staff Alexander MacDonald. The construction and launch will cost up to $150,000 in partnership with a company from Lithuania. The hope is that this project will serve as an agent for social and political change to the local society over the evolving role of women in the workforce, because women can and do belong in STEM fields.
This culmination of this project will make history once these young women are able to complete the satellite launch. The hope is that they will not only show Kyrgyztan what women are capable of, but also inspire young girls to follow their dreams.
“We are doing this program because we want to prove that girls can actually do it,” Aidarbekova said. “Maybe our project will give hope to girls all around the world.”