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Wednesday, 6 February, 2002, 16:44 GMT
Afghan women return to study
Female Afghan students fill out exam papers during an entrance test at Kabul University
It is as if we have been reborn, women said of the test
Women in Afghanistan have taken university entrance exams for the first time since the fall of the Taleban.

About 500 young female hopefuls joined seven times that number of male students for the tests at Kabul University campus on Wednesday.


We are happy... Females make up 50% of the population and they should also be allowed to study

Hasib Habib,
male law student
During five years of hardline Islamic rule, which ended late last year, women were banned from study or work and could only receive an education clandestinely.

Wednesday's exams followed another milestone for Afghanistan's women - the publication of a new magazine giving a female perspective on news and social affairs.

"For years I couldn't attend school. I had to educate myself illegally. And now I'm very happy to be here," Jalelah Salimy told the Associated Press.

Those who taught her faced lengthy prison sentences if they had been caught by the Taleban.

"It's as if we have been reborn," another women said.

Extra classes

Demand to sit the exams was so high that armed police were called in to calm scuffles that broke out among those queuing. Many would-be students did not make it through the front door.


It's a great signal for the whole of Afghanistan

Sima Samar,
women's minister
Higher Education Minister Rassool Amin said it was a great day for Afghanistan.

"We need female graduates and so we will do all we can to help them," he said.

To this end, universities would lay on extra classes to help women make up for the gap in their education.

Women sitting the entrance exams will automatically be credited with 15% of their marks, he added.

Sima Samar, women's affairs minister in the interim cabinet, said: "It's a great signal for the whole of Afghanistan. Unfortunately the numbers are small, but it's a start."

Women gain a voice

The Women's Mirror, a four-page publication, brings the number of independent titles in Kabul to at least six.

The BBC's Kate Clark in Kabul says it shows how some Afghan women are re-entering public life, but also how Afghans generally are pushing for greater civil liberties.

Afghan women
Even without the Taleban great fear remains
Just publishing is a victory after an era in which women were denied any public voice, she says.

But state censorship in Afghanistan has a much longer history than the years of Taleban rule - broadcasting and most of the print media is still state-owned and very much state-controlled, she adds.

Even so, many people say the fact that the world and the United Nations are watching Afghanistan closely, gives them the opportunity to push for greater freedoms.

Clandestine political parties are starting to operate openly - the first seminar on civil liberties was held this week.

And Afghan journalists and writers are publicly asking questions about corruption and accountability in the post-Taleban era.

See also:

06 Feb 02 | South Asia
Afghan women embrace new prospects
03 Dec 01 | South Asia
Kabul's papers go to press again
13 Jan 02 | South Asia
New era for Afghan television
27 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kabul women's march thwarted
25 Sep 01 | South Asia
Afghanistan's clandestine army
24 Nov 01 | South Asia
Kabul women keep the veil
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