To help us get a better understanding on this topic, we have reached out to Sabine Agius Cabourdin, Founder of FIDEM Charity Foundation. This non-profit organisation provides support and empowerment opportunities to vulnerable women, adolescent girls and children through access to education, arts and culture and wellbeing guidance.
What are the biggest challenges faced by women, which hinders them from furthering their education?
Women and girls in Malta and across the world face multiple challenges which hinder them from furthering their education. Some of the most frequent challenges here in Malta include girls having to drop out of school because of socioeconomic factors – for example to help earn money if their family is in financial difficulty, domestic violence affecting women psychologically and physically, and childcare constraints – with single mothers (who have often fled unstable homes) unable to afford the childcare they need to enable them to study.
From the women the foundation has helped, what is usually the main reason why they have found themselves in a vulnerable situation?
Many of the women we work with are staying in the domestic violence shelters we partner with to identify participants. Participants are also referred to us by their social workers. We also receive direct requests from women who can’t afford to further their studies due to various hardships they are facing.
Our participants are often in a vulnerable situation because they have fled dangerous and abusive partners or they have left their abusive partners and are unable to support themselves and their children financially – independently of their partner. They are also frequently in need of psychological assistance due to the trauma they have been through.
How does the foundation support these women?
The FIDEM Charity Foundation believes in the transformative power of education. We aim to enable the women we work with across Malta and Gozo to access life-changing educational opportunities so that they can take positive steps towards increasing their confidence and skills, prioritising their independence and achieving their career and life goals on their own terms.
Our Educate to Empower Programme funds the cost of educational courses and learning materials – such as educational books and laptops – for participants who are unable to self-finance. Women apply for the programme with details of the course they want to take and why it will positively impact their future, and we work with them to make their goals a reality.
We fund psychological support and childcare costs, and offer job placement assistance too if needed. We stand alongside participants for the entirety of their educational journey, both practically and emotionally.
FIDEM also funds urgently needed practical learning materials such as educational books, laptops or PCs, school supplies and school uniforms for vulnerable women, adolescent girls and children on an ongoing basis.
Furthermore, we have a wellbeing platform called We Connect at www.weconnect.org.mt where everyone in the community can gain access to free wellbeing guidance and direct support, along with uplifting and enriching content.
Why do you think education is key to a better future?
“Education is the only thing no-one can ever take away from you” – FIDEM participant
The World Bank states that “better educated women tend to be more informed about nutrition and healthcare, have fewer children, marry at a later age, and their children are usually healthier, should they choose to become mothers. They are more likely to participate in the formal labour market and earn higher incomes. All these factors combined can help lift households, communities, and countries out of poverty”.
UNESCO estimates that around the world 132 million girls are currently out of school. FIDEM believes that everyone, no matter their gender or background, has the right to access education and the multitude of benefits and freedoms it brings.
If women and girls in our community are educated they can transform their lives, and the lives of those around them – becoming role models for future generations. Our aim is therefore to enable women and girls at any age to pursue the educational opportunities that will empower them to make meaningful and sustainable changes to their future.
This question reflects on two of the Sustainable Development Goals, Education (SDG 4) and Gender Equality (SDG 5). How will helping women advance their education help towards being more sustainable?
With a score of 69.7 out of 100 in the Gender Equality Index, the EU is at least 60 years away from reaching complete gender equality at its current pace, so there is much work for us to do as a society to help complete gender equality become a reality.
Educating women is vital to achieving gender equality because education gives women the confidence, skills and knowledge to pursue their ambitions and to take on an active and informed role, both in the workplace and in society as a whole, including in leadership positions.
Gender equality can only become more sustainable long-term if women and girls have consistent access to quality educational opportunities which allow them to become more independent, seek a variety of career opportunities, demand equal positions and pay to their male counterparts, and become positive role models.
Do you think that there are enough support systems for vulnerable women to further their education?
There is a definite lack of established support systems in our community to enable vulnerable women to further their education. For example, single mothers affected by domestic violence who want to pursue educational opportunities are unable to do so because of issues such as childcare constraints, and vulnerable families struggling to afford school uniforms, laptops, books and school supplies for their children are falling through the cracks of the current support system.
The pandemic has exposed deeper inequalities in our society too, for example many children fell behind with their learning because their families could not afford to buy computer equipment to use for home schooling. Even though these children are now back at school, this equipment would still be very useful on an ongoing basis for additional learning and research beyond the classroom, but they do not have the opportunity to further their development in this way.
Founded in 2018, FIDEM is an ambitious and growing charity but we are still small, and we do not have the resources to help everyone in need of our support, so we would welcome the creation of more robust support systems to enable equal educational access for all.
How can the people reading this support the foundation and its cause?
People wishing to support FIDEM and our Educate to Empower Programme can visit www.fidem.org.mt/donate to make a gift online via credit or debit card, or via Revolut, SMS or bank transfer. Every gift enables us to reach more vulnerable people in need of our support, and we would be delighted to keep you updated on the impact of your donation.
We offer the opportunity for our supporters to mentor Educate to Empower Programme participants – sharing their knowledge and expertise to encourage, inspire and assist their mentee.
People can also support FIDEM’s work by writing articles or creating videos on a voluntary basis for our wellbeing platform, We Connect – www.weconnect.org.mt
Dr Agius Cabourdin participated during the session dedicated to Women during the Malta Sustainability Forum earlier this year. Click here to watch the session which discussed the issues women face both in the business world and society at large.