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Growing up, Thekra Alhazmi, from Saudi Arabia, knew that the odds were against her dreams. She wanted to study electrical engineering. STEM studies and jobs are largely male-dominated and difficult for women to access everywhere. But the challenges faced by Thekra were even more considerable and she saw evidence around her that her dreams were beyond reach.

“My mother couldn’t go to school because it was shameful for girls at her age to study, and my father could only complete his elementary school education,” Thekra explained adding that she is the youngest of nine children and that her family did not have the financial stability to support her education. 

But the world has changed and Thekra is proof of that. She worked hard and received a government scholarship to study electrical engineering in one of the top ten engineering schools in the United States. She lived abroad alone to study and graduated with an excellent record which helped her receive offers from top global consulting firms in her field. 

It took a global transformation to grant Thekra opportunities that were not available to her mother. 

25 years ago, world leaders met at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo and pledged their support to girls’ education and youth empowerment as part of a global agenda to achieve sustainable development for all. The agenda of the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) was revolutionary at the time for shifting the attention from demographic targets to the quality of people’s lives through enshrining a basic individual right to make free reproductive choices. The ICPD agenda envisioned this right as integral to the formula of sustainable development which also includes improved reproductive healthcare, girls’ education and women’s empowerment, and supporting youth’s right to employment and knowledge. 

Most recently, Thekra was one of 200 young women and men from the Arab region who came together at the second edition of the Youth Forum in the Arab Region. The forum was organized by UNFPA, the United Nations reproductive health agency, and the Tunisian Ministry of Youth and Sports in collaboration with other partners from 20-22 August under the banner of “knowledge at the service of the youth in the Arab region”. Thekra and her co-participants worked together to develop regional projects to enhance youth’s access to knowledge and their ability to employ this knowledge at the service of young people’s quest for sustainable development. 

To learn more about the forum’s participants and their inspirational social contributions, read the story at this link