Paris, 8 February. Action Education’s Education for Women Now movement launched this month with immediate plans to roll out educational projects for marginalised women and girls in India, Laos, Madagascar, and Senegal.

As we enter 2021, the global pandemic of Covid-19 continues to threaten the health and well-being of individuals and create severe social, educational and economic effects.  However, the crisis also presents a unique opportunity to address existing (and increasing) inequalities and respond to the biggest education emergency of our time. 

Education for Women Now, launched on 17 January 2021, is our new international initiative, seeking to raise €20 million to support ten education projects that will reach 3 million girls and women, globally, by 2025.

Before the crisis, 132 million girls were excluded from school. According to UNESCO, now, the crisis threatens to exclude a further 11 million, depriving them of their right to education. In developing countries across Africa and Asia, where girls face many barriers to accessing education, crises exacerbate inequalities and lead to girls and young women often being the first to be removed from school and the last to return, if they return. 

The campaign’s first four projects, financially backed by The L’Oréal Fund for Women, a €50 million charitable endowment fund created by the L’Oréal Group to support vulnerable women, with a commitment of €270,000 will allow us to begin crisis recovery responses now through addressing gender discrimination in rural school systems in Senegal; supporting teen and young mothers in Madagascar; offering education and psychosocial support to vulnerable and marginalised girls in India, and entrepreneurship opportunities and business training for young women in the Lao People’s Democratic Republic (Lao PDR).

In remote and rural communities in Lao PDR, largely home to ethnic minority groups, physical, structural and social barriers coupled with traditional gender beliefs and attitudes contribute to less value being placed upon girls’ education typically leading to girls not finishing school. Without an education, young women have little economic opportunity. To address this we are offering business training and entreneurship to ethnic minority female youth.

Through offering participants mentorship in designing and implementing community-oriented business start-ups, our project in Lao PDR seeks to disrupt the norms that keep girls in low or unpaid agriculture, domestic and care work. Over the next four years, we will reach 860 participants, demonstrating that education is a pathway to female empowerment.

Madagascar, one of the poorest countries worldwide, is also one of the countries with the highest teen pregnancy rates worldwide. Of the country’s 15-19-year-old girls, 39% are already mothers and the majority face exclusion from school and society as a result. Without an education and social support, many of these young mothers end up in informal, insecure work and at risk of experiencing violence, sexual assault and exploitation.

In close collaboration with the metropolitan area of the country’s capital Antananarivo, Action Education is working to empower disadvantaged, young, single mothers. Our project applies a holistic approach encompassing many dimensions such as health, psychosocial support, social protection, employability, improved livelihoods and income as well as citizen participation. Over the course of three years, we will enable 900 young mothers who dropped out of school to gain the skills they need to take control over their own futures.

While reports suggest there are 800,000 sex workers in India, unofficial figures place these numbers far higher. Sex work is heavily stigmatized in India and the children of sex workers often don’t get an opportunity to enrol in school or if they do, they tend to drop out because of discrimination and bullying. Denied an education, they often end up growing up without adequate supervision or nutrition, vulnerable to violence, and falling into a cycle of poverty and sex work themselves. 

Over the next three years, we will work in one of Delhi’s largest red light areas and provide a variety of support to the area’s most vulnerable girls. In addition to providing education in reading, writing and arithmetic, we will introduce topics on health, hygiene and also the issues of social development such as gender, sex and sexuality. Additionally we will teach digital literacy not only to the girls but to the wider community and help connect the most vulnerable to a world beyond their immediate environment.

In Senegal, strong inequalities persist between girls and boys in terms of staying in school as well as academic achievement. Often girls are expected to fulfil domestic roles and if a family can’t afford to educate all their children, a boy’s education will be prioritised.  With a lack of importance placed on education for girls, girls tend to develop a feeling of inferiority compared to boys and a lack of self-confidence leading to impairing their academic results even more.

To increase girl’s confidence and participation in school, our project will not only provide girls with educational materials including digital tablets and resources but also mentorship opportunities. To create change and more opportunities for girls and women, we also know the importance of engaging the wider community and will offer gender-sensitive training to teachers and other key players such as local leaders and village chiefs.

With support from The L’Oréal Fund for Women, our first four projects will tackle a variety of issues that have stood as obstacles in achieving access to quality education for all. Through highlighting and responding to the existing inequalities that are now being exacerbated by Covid-19, we can begin to build a more sustainable and just future. Join us as we launch Education For Women Now and aim to raise €20 million and enable more than 3 million vulnerable girls and women access their right to education.

Christine Redmond

Copyright: Naïade Plante