Afghan beauty queen goes from burka to bikini

MANILA (Reuters) - For Vida Samadzai, it has been a long journey from underneath an all-encompassing burka in Afghanistan to baring nearly all by a Manila swimming pool in a red bikini.

The first Afghan entrant in an international beauty contest for 30 years, and the first since the fall of the hardline Islamic Taliban government in 2001, joined more than 50 other women at a posh hotel in the Philippine capital this week to fight it out for the Miss Earth title.

The dark-haired Samadzai, 25, was born and raised in Afghanistan, but left for the United States in 1996 to escape the turmoil of civil war and the rise of the Taliban religious movement.

"I would like to make people aware that as Afghan women we are talented, intelligent and beautiful," Vida, posing in a revealing swimsuit, told Reuters.

"We are one of the people who can make a difference in this world."

The Taliban won notoriety for banning women from appearing in public without the burka, but such practices were not uncommon in the conservative country even before the religious zealots swept to power in the late 1990s.

Many Afghan women still wear the garment.

The only other Miss Afghanistan was Zohra Daoud, who joined the Miss Universe contest in 1972.

Whether she ends up with the winner's tiara or not, Vida plans to take her message of female liberation back to Afghanistan later this year, hoping to raise money for womens' schools.


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