Paris, February 3rd. The movement "Education for Women Now("Education for Women, Now!") was launched on January 17. It provides for the immediate deployment of various educational projects dedicated to marginalized women and girls, notably in India, Laos, Madagascar and Senegal.

As we enter 2021, the global pandemic of COVID-19 continues to threaten individual health and well-being, and its social, educational, and economic consequences are dramatic. But this crisis is also an opportunity to address existing (and growing) inequities and to respond to the greatest educational emergency of our time. 

Education for Women Nowlaunched on January 17, 2021, is our new international initiative. It aims to raise 20 million euros to support ten education projects for 3 million girls and women around the world by 2025.

With COVID-19, more than 11 million girls may never return to school (UNESCO). They would join the 130 million who were already out of school before the crisis (UNESCO). In developing countries in Africa and Asia, where girls face many barriers to accessing education, the crises exacerbate inequalities and mean that girls are often the first to be taken out of school and the last to return, if at all. 

The first four projects of the campaign are financially supported (to the tune of €270,000) by the L'Oréal Women's Fund, a €50 million philanthropic endowment fund created by the L'Oréal Group to support women in vulnerable situations. This commitment allows us to address gender inequality in rural school systems in Senegal now; support adolescent girls and young mothers in Madagascar; provide education and psychosocial support to vulnerable and marginalized girls in India; and provide vocational entrepreneurship training to young women in Laos.

For example, in rural and remote communities in Laos, where the majority of ethnic minority groups live, geographical, structural, and social barriers, combined with traditional gender beliefs and customs, contribute to the devaluation of girls' education. As a result, girls do not complete their education. Without an education, these young women have few economic opportunities. To remedy this, we offer them entrepreneurship training.

By mentoring participants in the design and implementation of community-based businesses, our project aims to change the norms that limit girls to agricultural, domestic, and low- or no-wage work. Over the next four years, 860 participants in Laos will be involved, demonstrating that education leads to women's empowerment.

MadagascarOne of the poorest countries in the world, Haiti also has one of the highest rates of teenage pregnancy. Among girls aged 15 to 19, 39% are already mothers, and the majority of them are therefore excluded from school and society. Without education or social support, many of these young mothers work in informal and precarious jobs and are at risk of violence, sexual assault, and exploitation.

In close collaboration with the metropolitan area of Antananarivo, the country's capital, Action Education works to empower young, disadvantaged single mothers. Our project is based on a holistic approach encompassing many dimensions such as health, psychosocial support, social protection, employability, improved livelihoods and income, and civic participation. Over three years, we will enable 900 young mothers who have dropped out of school to acquire the skills they need to take charge of their future.

While reports suggest that there are 800,000 sex workers in IndiaThe unofficial figures are actually much higher. Sex work is highly stigmatized in India and the children of sex workers are often unable to enroll in school or, if they do, tend to drop out due to discrimination and harassment. Deprived of education, they often grow up without adequate supervision and care, becoming vulnerable to violence and at risk of falling into the cycle of poverty and sex work themselves. 

Over the next three years, we will be working in one of the largest prostitution areas of New Delhi, where we will be providing different types of support to the most vulnerable girls. In addition to teaching literacy and numeracy, we will address health, hygiene and also social development issues such as gender and sexuality. In addition, we will provide digital education to the girls, but also to the community at large, helping the most vulnerable connect to a world beyond their immediate environment.

At SenegalIn addition, there are strong inequalities between girls and boys in terms of school retention and achievement. Often, girls are expected to fill domestic roles and, if a family cannot afford to educate all of its children, a boy's education will be preferred. Because of the lack of emphasis on girls' education, girls tend to develop a sense of inferiority to boys and a lack of self-confidence, which further impairs their academic performance.

To build girls' confidence and participation in school, our project will provide them with educational materials, including tablets and digital resources, as well as mentoring opportunities. In order to effect change and provide more opportunities for girls and women, we know it is also important to involve the wider community. For this reason, we will provide gender-sensitive training for teachers and other key actors such as local leaders and village chiefs.

With the support of the L'Oréal Women's Fund, our first four projects will address various issues that impede access to quality education for all. By highlighting and addressing existing inequalities, exacerbated by the COVID-19 crisis, we can begin to build a more sustainable and just future. 

Join our movement Education For Women Now20 million and enable over 3 million vulnerable girls and women to access their right to education.

Christine Redmond

Photo credits: Naïade Plante