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 Saturday, 25 January, 2003, 21:34 GMT
Afghan women back in driving seat
Hirama poses by a car after a driving test in Kabul
Women have not been allowed to drive since 1992

In the Afghan capital, Kabul, 10 women have taken one small step which could mean a giant leap.

They have taken their driving tests. If they are successful, they will be the first women to take the wheel since the collapse of the Taleban.

Very few women drive in Afghanistan and when they do, they draw stares from men and women alike.

Noorya, 45, smiles after taking the practical portion of her driving test
Driving is still considered controversial by conservative forces
While many women want to drive, it was never permitted under the Taleban and is still seen as a controversial step by conservative forces in the country.

But on Saturday, 10 trail-blazing women concluded four months' preparation to take their written, oral and practical tests.

Nineteen-year-old Giti Negbin, who works as a computer programmer in Kabul, explains why she wants to be driver:

"It's so that we can solve our problems by ourselves. Not just driving, we want to do everything where we can solve problems ourselves."

Boost for women

Giti and her fellow learner drivers have been encouraged by a programme run by the German agency, Medica Mondiale.

It bought an old car so the women could take lessons and found a man willing to teach them.

Women's officer Rachel Wareham says her agency cannot keep up with demand; there are many more women who want to learn to drive.

I think that psychologically it's very important for women to have something for themselves and this is something that's really theirs, that nobody can take away

Rachel Wareham
Aid worker
"For some of them, it is very practical; it's about mobility, it's about the fact that it's so difficult for women to move around in Kabul," she says.

"If they're walking on the streets, they get a lot of physical harassment.

"For some women, it's about having a skill, a new skill, and I think that psychologically it's very important for women to have something for themselves and this is something that's really theirs, that nobody can take away."

Resistance within certain government offices has led to delays in processing the women's applications for licences.

Supportive men

But the Afghan men who stopped to watch the women do their driving tests near Kabul stadium expressed their support for women drivers.

Abdul Bashir says he thinks it is good for the country, that women should be able to cope for themselves in case of an emergency.

And he says he would be happy for his wife or daughters to become drivers.

All 10 women looked to pass their practical tests with ease.

They reversed, parked and changed gears as well, or better than, most drivers on Kabul streets.

While changes are coming slowly here, these women are determined that nothing will stand in their way.

  WATCH/LISTEN
  ON THIS STORY
  The BBC's Martha Dixon
"Under the Taleban women were banned outright from driving"
See also:

21 Jan 03 | South Asia
31 May 01 | South Asia
20 Jul 00 | South Asia
11 Jan 00 | South Asia
03 Aug 98 | South Asia
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