London, Sept 7 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - An Afghan entrepreneur is hoping to inspire a new generation of women by using her travel agency to help female students secure places at universities in Turkey, Russia and Europe and then break into male-dominated careers.
Marjana Sadi, 21, set up Banoo Travel Agency in a market in central Kabul nearly a year ago where eight young female staff now work under the portraits of successful Afghan women.
Sadi said she set up the company after hearing many women complaining about their struggles to get jobs as they could not get into foreign universities and her company has so far secured places for more than 35 women.
"I'd been a radio presenter for more than 3 years and I was fed up with hearing that some jobs are exclusively for men and women don't have the skills for these jobs so I decided to set up my own company," Sadi told the Thomson Reuters Foundation in a phone interview from Kabul.
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Sadi said her father and brother helped her with the $50,000 needed to set up Banoo Travel Agency and friends from the Ministry of Women Affairs linked her to contacts in foreign universities to arrange places for women to study abroad.
She said in the past year her travel agency has managed to secure university places for 35 girls in Turkey and they are currently working on sending some women to Russia and India. She said the next target was universities in Europe.
One student, Muazama, who did not want to give surname, is getting ready to leave for a journalism course at Istanbul University with Banoo arranging her visa, travel and university admission at a cheaper cost than she could have arranged. "I always wanted to continue my education but never had a way to do it, but Marjana helped me to get admission for 50 percent cheaper at Istanbul University," Muazama said via phone.
According to a World Bank report, about 76 percent of women aged over 15 in Afghanistan are illiterate.
For although Afghan women regained the right to go to school, vote, and to work since the ultra-conservative Taliban was overthrown in 2001, the nation's economic and security crisis makes it difficult for women to access education.
Many areas of Afghan society remain male dominated, and changes taking place are often slow and patchy.
In May a new TV channel dedicated to women with all female presenters and producers began broadcasting while Afghanistan's first female pilot, refugee Shaista Waiz, hit the spotlight with her bid to be first Afghan woman to fly solo around the world.
Sadi, who has never studied overseas but has visited India and Turkey, said she hoped one day soon to be among the students heading for a university life abroad and new career.
"Through my own travel agency, I am planning to continue my higher education in Business administration in the next two years in Turkey or India," she said.