HERAT -- The number of women at the annual Kankor university entrance exam in Herat has reached new levels, highlighting the determination of Afghan women seeking higher education.
More than 13,000 participants took the Kankor exam this year August 6-8 at Herat University in Herat city.
Among the 13,280 participants, 7,779 were women, said Herat University Chancellor Abdullah Fayez.
"Girls' participation stood at 51% in the 2018 Kankor exam, their participation rose to 52% in 2019, and this year it jumped to 59%," he said.
During the first round, more than 10,000 women took the test in 17 provinces, and in the second round, which covers eight provinces including Herat, more than 16,700 took part, according to Abdul Qadir Khamush, the acting administrator of the exam board at the Ministry of Higher Education.
"An increased number of women have participated in this year's Kankor exam throughout Afghanistan -- more than that in previous years," he said. "There will be a higher participation of girls in the Kankor exam in the near future in the remaining nine provinces."
Past experience and results show that women have scored higher than men have on the Kankor exam, while they also have won the highest number of slots in higher educational institutions, he added.
Realising their rights
Women who took the Kankor exam in Herat Province say they did so to educate themselves in order to play an active role in Afghanistan's future.
Afghan women lost their chance at education and activities outside the home for a few decades because of war and social problems, but now things have changed as women play a role in the country's development alongside men, said Rahima Saeedi, who took the examination in Herat.
"Women and girls of Afghanistan have grown, and they have realised their rights," she added. "They want to play their part in the civil service, university education and activities outside the home."
Continuing education is women's definite right, and no one -- including the Taliban -- can snatch this right from them, said Saeedi.
"The Taliban must accept women and girls with their current situation and the opportunities they have, and they can never impose their demands on women," she added.
"If the Taliban enter the peace process, they must accept the Afghan government as a progressive government and they have to refrain from putting obstacles in Afghanistan's path to growth, including education and activities outside the home," she said. "They have to accept women's rights and their presence in the government."
"As a young person, I plan to continue my education and serve in the government in the future," said Rayhana Mahboobi, another test taker from Herat.
"I want to obtain a master's degree and then work in the government to serve my country," she added. "The Taliban cannot restrict women's activities."
Lasting peace needs to be ensured should the Taliban join the government so that women and girls can receive an education and play a key role in their country's future, added Mahboobi.
A key role in Afghanistan's development
Women have an active role in the civil service in Herat Province as they lead a number of key government institutions, said Munesa Hasanzada, the deputy governor of the province.
"Women and girls have been educated and empowered during the past two decades, and they have capabilities similar to those of men striving for the prosperity of their country," she said. "Opportunities and achievements that you see in Afghanistan today could have never been possible without women's participation."
"Women have grown in Afghanistan to an extent that if someone or a group intends to block their activities, it will face resistance," she said. "Women in Afghanistan are not like those 20 years ago, and they're able to defend their rights."
Women constitute half of Afghanistan's population and they are very interested in education and progress; therefore, their growth should not be blocked, said Abdullah Mayar, a lecturer at Herat University.
The large presence of women taking the Kankor exam "sends a message that women should participate in all walks of life", he added. "Women should be given an active role in the peace process so that they can defend their rights during peace talks with the Taliban."
No one can overlook girls and women's considerable presence in Afghan society, he said.
"Educated girls and women have a key role to play in Afghanistan's reconstruction and development, and the more educated women we have, the more they can contribute to various sectors in the country," added Mayar.