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For two girls in Moldova, different opportunities mean diverging paths

REZINA/CIMIȘLIA, Moldova — At age 17, Ana-Maria Odobescu is active at school and as a volunteer, helping other adolescents learn about healthy lifestyles. With her parents’ support, she is excited about going to college after she graduates from high school.

“I think all young women should trust themselves and build their future without caring about stereotypes and other barriers,” says Ana-Maria.

Iuliana* is also 17 and living in Moldova, but aside from that, her life couldn’t be more different from Ana-Maria’s. Neglected by her family, she had to work from an early age and now has a baby with her abusive partner.

“I never thought I’d become a mother at age 15. I often think that if my family or someone else had supported me, I wouldn’t have ended up where I am now,” says Iuliana.

The stories of Ana-Maria and Iuliana are indicative of the gaps in opportunities facing girls and women in Moldova, and around the world. Significant progress has been made in the 50 years since UNFPA was founded, and in the 25 years since world governments agreed to the Programme of Action adopted at the International Conference on Population and Development (ICPD) in Cairo. But not everyone has equal access to the same rights and choices, as UNFPA’s new State of World Population 2019 reveals.

“These two stories are proof of the fact that though two girls have the same dreams and potential, their circumstances mean that their lives and futures are going to be very different,” says Natalia Plugaru, Assistant Representative for UNFPA Moldova.

‘Marriage must be planned, just like other things in one’s life’

Ana-Maria had her first experience with volunteering at the Children’s Advisory Board, where she learned how to form an opinion and communicate it to the public. Later, she got involved with Y-PEER Moldova, a youth network supported by UNFPA that uses peer-to-peer education techniques to inform young people about healthy lifestyles. As a Y-PEER volunteer, Ana-Maria travels to community-based centres in other districts of Moldova on the weekends to talk to other girls and boys about how to avoid risky behaviours during adolescence.

Ana-Maria also chairs the Pupils’ Council at her school in Rezina district, in central Moldova. When she goes home after classes, she and her elder sister make lunch, tidy up and then do their homework while waiting for their parents to get home from work.

“Preparing for the weekend Y-PEER trainings can be time-consuming and I often end up going to bed late, but my batteries feel fully charged because I enjoy what I am doing and feel like I am growing,” Ana-Maria says. She would like to get married someday, but only after she has finished her education.

“Marriage must be planned, just like other things in one’s life,” Ana-Maria says. “I will get married when I find the right person, and we will decide together about having children.”

‘I dreamt about something else’

Born into a vulnerable family in the district of Cimișlia, in southern Moldova, Iuliana remembers having to work from a very early age in order to earn some money. “I used to work at a poultry plant. I felt like I was 15, even though I was only 10 years old,” she says. Her father left the family and moved abroad; her mother remarried and paid little attention to Iuliana.

Iuliana didn’t learn any information about her sexual and reproductive health, or how to say “no” in a relationship, from anyone in her family, or at school. As a result, she became pregnant at the age of 15 with a partner who is four years older and subjects her to regular abuse. She hid her pregnancy for as long as she could out of shame and fear, continuing to go to school and managing to graduate from secondary-level education. She is now dutifully bringing up her healthy baby boy. Iuliana says she really loves children and is happy to have her son, but that she would do things differently if she had another chance.

“This wasn’t my actual choice. I dreamt about something else,” Iuliana says. “I dreamt about continuing my education, about being independent. I did want to have a child, but later, when I would have been able to provide for him.”

Iuliana lives with the father of her child and his family. She cooks, does the laundry and takes care of her partner’s sick father. She says she is afraid to even go to the store without letting her partner’s family know what she is going to do. She endures the violence because she has nowhere else to go. Though she doesn’t know how to break away from this unhealthy situation, she still hopes to make a change in her life. “My greatest dream is to master a trade and be able to provide for myself and for my son,” Iuliana says.

An unfinished agenda on sexual and reproductive health and rights

More than 110,000 girls between the ages of 14 and 19 live in Moldova. Investing in their health education, and in that of their male counterparts, at this critical developmental stage is essential to ensuring that all girls and boys, particularly the most disadvantaged, have the information and ability to make the right choices to build the future they want.

“Looking back, we can see that not all of the commitments made at the ICPD have been lived up to,” says Plugaru of UNFPA Moldova. “If what we want is for all girls and women to be able to make their own choices about having children, and to live a dignified life free of abuse, we should support them from an early age and invest now in their education and health.”

*Name changed to protect privacy

A version of this story originally appeared on the website of UNFPA Moldova.