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Afghan Woman Earns Top Marks In University Exam After Militants Attack Her Academy

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

Next, we have news from Afghanistan, which is so often grim - but not this time. We've learned that the daughter of a coal miner has topped the country's university entrance exams despite militants attacking the very institution where she was studying. Here's NPR's Diaa Hadid.

DIAA HADID, BYLINE: Shamsia Alizada's so bright that she was studying for free at the Mawdud Academy in Kabul, where students prepare for university exams. But two years ago, a suicide bomber blew himself up in a classroom there.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON: (Crying).

HADID: More than 40 students were killed. Many were buried together on a Kabul hilltop, where some call them the martyrs of knowledge.

Speaking to an Afghan news outlet, Alizada says one of the victims, a young woman called Raheela, would have taken first place in the exams had she lived.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

SHAMSIA ALIZADA: (Non-English language spoken).

HADID: She says Raheela and all her dreams are in the grave, and it pains me. Alizada says she dropped out of the school after the attack, but her teachers convinced her to return and study hard.

ORZALA NEMAT: Fascinating story of resilience, of resistance of women and girls who have not surrendered to fear.

HADID: Orzala Nemat leads a think tank in Kabul. She used to run secret classes for girls in the '90s, when the Taliban ruled the city and banned girls from getting an education. After the insurgents were toppled by U.S. forces following 9/11, girls could study again. But they faced attacks.

NEMAT: Shamsia's generation has been experiencing violence, experiencing fear but yet, maintaining their focus on studies and learning.

HADID: Alizada's success comes as historic negotiations are underway between the Afghan government and the Taliban. And many women fear their hard-won rights will be scaled back as negotiators try to find ways to compromise with the insurgents. Their concern begins with the fact that only three of the 21 government negotiators are women. Zarifa Ghafari is the mayor of a town just south of Kabul.

ZARIFA GHAFARI: We needed more women on the table. We needed more voices on the table.

HADID: She hopes Alizada's story will remind negotiators of why women's rights are important. Again, Orzala Nemat

NEMAT: Women are now standing on their own feet, and Taliban are no one to come and stop them from what they are going to achieve.

HADID: And success stories like Alizada, she says, show that Afghan women are too strong now to be suppressed again.

Diaa Hadid, NPR News, Islamabad.

[CORRECTION: This report incorrectly says there were three Afghan women on the government negotiating team. In fact, there were four women.]

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

Corrected: September 25, 2020 at 12:00 AM EDT
This report incorrectly says there were three Afghan women on the government negotiating team. In fact, there were four women.