KABUL -- Thousands of Afghan girls and women took the country's university entrance exam (Kankor) on Thursday (October 13), two weeks after a bomber killed dozens of students preparing for the tests.
Since August 2021, many girls have been banned from secondary education in Afghanistan.
Meanwhile, the country's collapsed economy has made university unaffordable to many, and some parents have pulled children from classes over safety fears.
On September 30, a suicide bomber burst into Kabul's Kaaj Higher Educational Centre, detonating himself in a segregated study hall and killing 53 students, 46 of whom were women.
Kaaj Higher Educational Centre coaches men and women ahead of the university entrance exam (Kankor).
The centre is located in Dasht-e-Barchi, in western Kabul, a predominantly Shia area that is home to the Hazara community, the target of some of Afghanistan's deadliest attacks.
No group has claimed responsibility for the attack on Kaaj centre yet. However, most of the blast's victims were members of the minority Shia Hazara community, frequently targeted by the "Islamic State of Iraq and Syria" (ISIS) terrorist group.
Anxiety among students
"There is so much anxiety," said 18-year-old student Zahra, who took the university entrance exam on Thursday, and hopes to study computer science.
"Our minds are disturbed, always feeling that at any time there could be a blast," she told AFP ahead of the exam.
Dressed in black headscarves, girls queued for their entrance exams outside the prestigious Kabul University.
Men had taken their exams earlier in the day.
Students were thoroughly searched before being allowed to sit for the exam, while security forces patrolled the surrounding area and closed down 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."
Students also told AFP that many of their classmates were staying away from the university, cancelling the test out of fear of an attack.
The university entrance exam, which all prospective university students in Afghanistan must take, was held for the first time since the fall of the previous government in August 2021.
However, with restrictions on girls' secondary education, fewer female students will qualify for the exam, as they may not complete high school studies.
"If there are no educated girls, then how could we have a developed society?" said one female student, declining to give her name.
But "nobody can stop us", said professor Yahya Homai.
"Nobody can take away the pen and book from our hands," he added.
Kabul University was attacked in November 2020 by gunmen who killed more than 20 students. Most of those killed were students.