Afghan girls take university exams two weeks after classroom attack
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Thousands of Afghan girls and women sat university entrance exams on Thursday under the guard of Taliban snipers, two weeks after a bomber killed dozens of students preparing for the tests.
Since the Taliban returned to power last August, many girls have been banned from secondary education.
Meanwhile a collapsed economy has made university unaffordable to many, and parents have pulled children from class over safety fears.
Last month an attacker burst into an education centre in Kabul, detonating himself in a segregated study hall killing 53 students, including 46 women and girls.
"There is so much anxiety," said 18-year-old student Zahra, who hopes to study computer science.
"Our minds are disturbed, always feeling that at any time there could be a blast," she told AFP before entering.
Dressed in black hijabs and headscarves, the students were under the heavy guard of Taliban personnel as they queued for their entrance exams outside the prestigious Kabul University.
Students were thoroughly searched before being allowed to sit the exam, while Taliban forces patrolled the surrounding area and shut nearby streets with roadblocks.
"This time all my worries are due to the security situation. Everyone is so scared," said student Madina. "Please pray that there are no blasts."
Boys and men had taken their exams earlier in the day.
Students also told AFP that many of their classmates were staying away from the university, cancelling the test for fear of an attack.
The entrance tests, which all prospective university students must take, were being held for the first time since the Taliban's return to power.
However, with restrictions on girls' secondary education, fewer female students will qualify for the exam.
"If there are no educated girls then how could we have a developed society?" said one female student, declining to give her name.
Kabul University was attacked in November 2020 by gunmen who killed more than 20 students.
But "nobody can stop us", said professor Yahya Homai.
"Nobody can take away the pen and book from our hands," he added.
The Taliban's return to power brought an end to a two-decade war against a US-backed government, leading to a significant reduction in violence, but security has begun to deteriorate in recent months.
The recent attack on the Kaj education centre has not yet been claimed by any group.
However most victims were members of the minority Shiite Hazara community, frequently targeted by the Islamic State jihadist organisation.