International waters

"Education is an important weapon for girls"

3 min
Text Lisa Hilte
Image Sarah Van Looy

The Daughters For Life foundation was established by Palestinian doctor Izzeldin Abuelaish in memory of his three daughters, who were killed in a missile attack. The foundation aims to empower young women through education. It provides scholarships and collaborates with international partner institutions such as the University of Antwerp. Two students are currently enrolled at UAntwerp with a Daughters For Life scholarship. They reflect on the longstanding challenges faced by girls in the region when pursuing (higher) education.


A career in research

 Nouran Khafaga and Nancy Hassan follow the English-taught master’s program in rehabilitation sciences and physiotherapy at UAntwerp. They both obtained their bachelor’s degrees in their home country Egypt. ‘Many Egyptian girls get a diploma nowadays’, Hassan says. ‘A huge leap forward! Awareness has really grown: education is now considered an important weapon for girls to protect themselves. However, after obtaining their bachelor’s degree, most of them quit school.’

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I consider it my responsibility to transfer what I learned. I especially want to motivate other girls to further improve themselves.

Nancy Hassan

Khafaga nods: ‘Age remains an issue. Why would you give up your “young years” for a career, instead of starting a family? But I have different priorities and dreams.’ Those include a career in research, a goal for which she thinks European education will prepare her better. Hassan recently got interested in research, too: ‘At UAntwerp, I’m learning how to write papers and conduct analyses. All new to me! I like it so much that I might apply for a PhD later, to specialize in patients with neurological conditions.’


Hassan and Khafaga have their families’ full support. ‘They always encouraged me to educate myself and to travel abroad, to discover myself and the world’, Khafaga says. 


Hassan continues: ‘In our home, everyone is equal: my mother, father, siblings, and me. Everyone has a job, and everyone does their share in the household. No gender distinction.’ The Daughters For Life scholarship gave Khafaga and Hassan the necessary financial push. ‘I simply couldn’t afford studying abroad,’ Hassan recalls. ‘I was working three jobs to save money, but it was still not enough. So, I applied for the scholarship, and now I have full financial support for my stay here!’

Giving back

Khafaga regularly reaches out to her former teachers and fellow students back home. ‘I inform them about the gaps between physiotherapy in Egypt versus Europe. And I help other students apply for scholarships.’ Hassan insists on giving back to her home country, too. Ultimately, she wants to move back to Egypt: ‘I consider it my responsibility to transfer what I learned. I especially want to motivate other girls to further improve themselves.’


Finally, both women describe their experience at UAntwerp as life changing. ‘Moving abroad is a major step’, Khafaga notes. ‘Especially because in our country, we don’t live that individually. Here in Belgium, I learned to take care of myself and to deal with change.’


Hassan agrees. ‘I really feel like I’m on the right track. I know myself better now and realize that I’m capable of more than I thought.’ Both students’ final advice? Don’t be afraid to step outside your comfort zone!

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