School children in Kakuma Refugee camp Kenya
@ Michael Onyiego
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Aiming Higher: Education unlocks opportunities for refugee women and girls

Four women share how UNHCR scholarships have empowered them – and their communities.

Access  to education is a fundamental human right. Yet for millions of women and girls among the world’s ever-growing refugee population, education remains a dream, not a reality.   

Ensuring refugee women and girls access education is crucial for unleashing their potential and enhancing the prosperity of their families and communities. The higher the education level they reach, the greater the benefits.

Only seven per cent of refugees access higher education globally (compared to 40 per cent of the general population). Female refugee students face additional barriers to accessing higher education: they may have to juggle their education with parenting, and their education goals are often not prioritised within their families. 

These are some of the barriers that UNHCR’s Aiming Higher scholarship program aims to address.

How the Aiming Higher program is investing in women’s education 

Thanks to the generous support of our donors, UNHCR is providing tertiary education scholarships for bright and determined refugee students. In 2022, the program granted scholarships to over 9,000 refugee students from 50 countries. 

Aiming Higher scholarships cover tuition fees and other costs which allow students to learn in safe and comfortable conditions. The scholarship also covers career training, networking opportunities and support to transition into the workforce.

Four scholarship students share how higher education has transformed their lives — and the lives of others in their community.

Fatma is a role model to other students 

Fatma, 23, is a refugee from Yemen. She now lives in Cairo, Egypt, where she received an Aiming Higher scholarship to study medicine. Her experience had a profound impact on her.

“[The scholarship] made me believe in myself and my abilities as a Middle Eastern woman, as the first woman in my family line to get the opportunity of higher education,” says Fatma. 

Yemeni DAFI scholar Fatma studies medicine in Egypt
© UNHCR/Antoine Tardy
“Knowledge is the key to building a better environment for everybody,” says Fatma, who received an Aiming Higher scholarship.

Fatma was also chosen to become a role model for disadvantaged children in her community – an experience she says is as rewarding as her academic studies.  

“[The Aiming Higher program] taught me how to teach kids leadership skills ... and be an influential role model in their lives. To me, working with disadvantaged children is an opportunity and not charity.

“It’s undeniable that [Aiming Higher] was an integral part of my journey, paving the way to reach my goal of becoming a doctor and, more importantly, a person who gives back to her community,” she says.

Faiza and Ilhan are forging new futures

Faiza and Ilhan both fled Somalia and are now living and studying in Ethiopia. The two friends are pursuing degrees that will help them build more secure futures – for themselves, their families and their communities. 

But, like the vast majority of refugees, accessing higher education hasn’t been easy for them, especially as women. 

Faiza And Ilhan, DAFI Scholars from Somila
© UNHCR/Antoine Tardy
Somali refugees Faiza (left) and Ilhan (right) are completing undergraduate degrees at Jijiga University in Ethiopia.

“In our culture, when girls reach the age of six or seven, they are no longer considered equal to boys,” says Faiza. “We must be very strong to resist this mindset.”

With support from Aiming Higher scholarships, Ilhan is undertaking a degree in agricultural studies, while Faiza is studying medicine. Their scholarships cover tuition as well as living expenses such as food and transport.  

“No one in my family is educated. They are farmers,” says Ilhan. “Agriculture was an obvious choice for me, given my family background and given the conditions that our region has been facing, especially with regards to drought,” says Ilhan. 

Faiza also wants to use her degree to help others.        
“There are great needs in the health sector in my country,” she says. “I want to be a leader and to make Somali people believe more in their country.”  

Liudmyla wants to help a post-war Ukraine 

Liudmyla, 18, was forced to leave her home in Ukraine for the safety of Slovakia. When she was awarded her Aiming Higher scholarship, she chose to study business management. 

Liudmyla was inspired to follow in the footsteps of her grandfather, who was a Doctor of Economic Sciences and taught at university.

Ukrainian DAFI Scholar Liudmyla studies Business Management in Slovakia
© Liudmyla
Liudmyla’s scholarship is helping her to follow in her grandfather’s footsteps.

“[It’s a] field of study that combines all my interests and provides opportunities for growth,” she says.
She enjoys the wide variety of subjects she studies, including logistics, marketing, advertising, world economics and diplomacy.

“There was no opportunity to stay in Ukraine, so I had to leave my homeland,” she says. “But leaving there, I made a promise that I would do everything to acquire knowledge and skills that would help me and my country in the post-war period.”  

Empowering women through higher education

Refugee women and girls often have fewer opportunities for education than men due to financial constraints, early marriage, childbearing and gender bias. 

UNHCR is committed to achieving equal gender representation among refugee scholarship students by 2025. There are currently 2,600 women in the Aiming Higher scholarship program. UNHCR aims for an additional 5,050 women to be enrolled by 2025.

Find out more about the Aiming Higher program and how you can help female refugees create a brighter future. 

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