Hawwa Sahiya, from Haa Alif Kelaa, never thought she would get the opportunity to study at the Centre for High Education (CHSE) in Male’. But with support from a UNFPA-executed project funded by the European Commission on the empowerment of women, Hawwa, who is in 11th grade, now looks forward to a future as an accountant.

The UNFPA project aimed at empowering women in the Maldives by improving their reproductive health, supporting their education and skills development. It was funded by the European Union and implemented by the Ministry of Women’s Affairs and Social Security, the Ministry of Education, and the non-profit organisation Society for Health Education.

Maldivian girls have generally had limited access to secondary or tertiary education in the past, thus severely limiting their employment opportunities. In some atoll schools, the “force out” rate used to be particularly high if no secondary school was on the island itself or nearby.

However, this situation is rapidly improving given the expansion of access to secondary education. The country is making good progress towards achieving the Millennium Development Goal of promoting gender equality and empowering women by eliminating gender disparities in education by 2015UNFPA advocates globally for girls’s education.

Studies throughout the world have shown that providing girls with better access to education is key to the efforts to eliminate discrimination. Substantial evidence shows that educated girls, especially those who have completed secondary education, were less likely to marry young, to have an unwanted pregnancy and to engage in high-risk behaviour such as drug abuse and unsafe sex.

The empowerment project has specifically promoted girls’ education in the Maldives through upgrading of a secondary school, a scholarship programme for girls from the outer atolls and training of teachers.”The UNFPA empowerment project has supported me at the right time, when I wanted to study,” says Hawwa, who has selected a commerce stream.

Dunya Maumoon, UNFPA Assistant Representative agrees: “The project has opened opportunities for girls’ access to secondary and higher secondary education. Eliminating the gap between girls and boys in access to and attainment of secondary, higher secondary and tertiary education is vital for the empowerment of women.”

Moreover, she adds, “experience from the project shows that, given the opportunity, parents are willing to send their daughter for higher education – even outside of their place of residence – and if the girls attain at least a minimum level of secondary education, other opportunities open up for them.”

The main challenge, she says, is to ensure that girls and young women continue to receive this kind of encouragement and support.

For Hawwa, however, the challenge is more personal. “I would like to serve the country as a professional accountant,” she says. “By having access to further education, my quality of life has really improved. I would like to see many other girls from the atolls benefit such opportunities and attain further studies.”

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