When entering the reception area of SEKEMs ceremony hall this Sunday you have been welcomed by a lot of proudly smiling women – some of the young ladies that are engaged in the projects in SEKEMs company NatureTex to empower women were presenting their latest work: the so called “Arusa Masriyya” (Egyptian doll). The dolls are representing the different characters of the Egyptian society. Sure: male and female ones alike as the 13th of September was SEKEMs day to celebrate equality.
Not new but unique
SEKEMs awareness about the meaning of equality is already based in its mission. Hence, gender equality is not a new idea but “to summarize the efforts and commitment in a comprehensive Gender Strategy is quite unique in Egypt”, Dr. Naglaa El-Adly says, who attended the event in behalf of Dr. Mervat El-Telawi (President of the National Council for Women). Besides Dr. Naglaa, some other high profile invitees attended the SEKEM-event and gave emotional and inspiring speeches in regards to the highly important topic.
Dr. Andreas Kuck, GIZ: “A Fruitful Cooperation”
Dr. Andreas Kuck, country director of the GIZ (German Development Cooperation) emphasized the important meaning of the cooperation between SEKEM and the GIZ, which is showing fruitful results already since many years. The projects and activities that have been done in the past two years leading to the Gender Strategy have been supported by a development advisor of the GIZ, Anna Kölling, who was the secret star of the event as she has helped to initiate all the practical work and activities that built the path to the recent celebration event (read more about the projects: Cooperation, Girl’s Day, Magazine). Her direct counterpart in SEKEM is Konstanze Abouleish, commercial manager of NatureTex, who planned her employment together with Nele Wasmuth, programme coordinator of GIZ’s EconoWin project, which works in the region for the economic integration of women. The three ladies were specially honoured by Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish at the very beginning of the event.
The joined commitment for gender equality started in SEKEMs company NatureTex with different activities to raise awareness about the importance of work in a woman’s life and empower women to realise a self-determined life. SEKEM is well aware of the challenges that women are facing when it comes to finding a balance between working and family life. Activities include for example by technical courses, English courses or regular consultations with the gynecologist Dr. Samira Malah, former Dean of Faculty of Medicine at the Al-Azhar University, who is supporting SEKEM in the field of reproductive health since decades and held a personal speech about her experiences.
Gender Equality as basis for a sustainable society
“Since women in Egypt are not supported to gain economic and social independence, especially in rural areas, where many of our employees come from, we developed a Gender Strategy with guidelines how to support women in education and at work and thereby secure their human rights and strengthen their societal role towards a gender balance in the Egyptian society”, Helmy Abouleish, CEO of the SEKEM Group says when presenting the SEKEM Gender Strategy for a Balanced Society. “We don’t do this only to promote gender equality but for a much higher goal: A sustainable future. We know that gender equality is one of the basic conditions to reach a sustainable society.”
Congratulations to this step were expresses as well by Sebastian Lesch, Head of Development Cooperation of the German Embassy. He pointed out how essential women are for the economic growth of a country and expressed the German Embassy’s proudness of being part of such an important project.
Empowering women in all components of the Initiative
The Gender Strategy summarises how SEKEM and the Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development (HU) are supporting the participation of women in public life by promoting the concept of gender equality in all components of the initiative: Starting at the schools where girls and boys alike are taught and introduced for instance to the same professions, going over to the University where they focus on organising different workshops and discussions in regards to the role of women in society, until supporting employees with special benefits. Hence, SEKEM allows all female and male co-workers up to one consecutive month unpaid leave for marriage preparations and supports its employees by paying a part of the school fees for children attending the SEKEM schools. SEKEM and HU are offering diverse work arrangements for women by facilitating reduced or flexible working hours, home office, part-time work and job sharing to encourage them to keep their jobs while enabling them to meet the responsibilities for their families.
During the successful event that was visited by around 150 people and received a huge range of media interest, also future plans where mentioned. Thus, for example Dr. Howayda Baraka, the representative of Dr. Layla Iskandar (Minister of Urban Development) asked SEKEM to cooperate with the ministry in programmes against the unemployment of women and highlighted that equality is also essential when fighting poverty.
“A society with two wings…”
The celebration, which lasted more than three hours, included classical music and an Eurythmy performance that received a lot of applause as it visualised the topic of gender equality in an amazing and very emotional way.
Another emotional moment was the presentation by Afdal Farid, a student and former SEKEM pupil that founded together with some colleagues a student club that they named “Balance” and its activities are committed to promote a balanced society. Dr. Kadria Motaal, Director of Research and Innovation at the HU: “Afdal presented a wonderful example for the outcomes of the past awareness raising projects and touched the audience by her ambitious talk.”
Finally Afdal’s former teacher and president of the SEKEM Development Foundation, Gamal Sayed closed the celebration event by saying: “a bird cannot fly with one wing – I wish that the Egyptian society will fly with two wings in the future.” With this thought-provoking message and with a lot of positive experiences the audience left the SEKEM celebration hall and let the inspiring morning fade away by a reception and social gathering.