I have a feeling that my perception of the issue has changed,“ says Walaa Mohamed after her visit to SEKEMs Heliopolis University. Walaa is one of five young women who work at the initiative’s textiles plant NatureTex and are currently seeking to advance the perception of the needs of women on the job there. „Now that we told our colleagues at the university of our projects, it seems to me as if I could handle any situation, especially when it comes to behaviour in public space. The visit was an important experience for me and a big step forward for our cause”, Walaa says.
The young women at NatureTex receive support from Anna Kölling. The German development consultant has been working in SEKEM since early 2014 in close cooperation with the EconoWin project (Economic Integration of Women in the Middle East and North Africa) financed by the GIZ (Society for International Development. (See report SEKEM Insight July 2014).
An Insight Into the Lives of Others
At NatureTex, the women‘s team organises so-called “social meetings” to which all company employees are invited to contribute and to participate in common activities. They may include technical courses, English courses and much more. Even regular consultations with a gynaecologist are part of the programme that is open to women and men alike. As the women working at NatureTex and the female students of the Heliopolis University are of the same generation but lead vastly different lives, the idea to organise mutual visits that would allow everyone peeks into the lives of the others had arisen early.
“We had already met on the SEKEM Farm last summer. Now we wanted our new girlfriends to see our daily workplace: the university”, Farid Afdal recalls. The 20-year-old is one of three students who were in charge of organising the day of the recent visit. On 22 December, the time had come for the five young employees of NatureTex to leave for Cairo. Their first step was a guided tour of the campus of the Heliopolis University. The guests even had the opportunity to take part in music and art lessons. They could also participate in a workshop on gender equality.
Contributing to Events
The main component of the visit to the Cairo campus was, however, the contribution to the weekly “University Forum”, a frequent event to which local, Egyptian, and international guests are regularly invited to give lectures on wide variety of cultural and social topics. At the forum, the NatureTex team told the participants about the projects that they could launch over the past few months. Thus, for example, was introduced the celebration of the International Women‘s Day, or of the birthdays of all company employees as a group. Last but not least, NatureTex has begun to issue its own corporate magazine. The new publication is dominated by the issue that is close to the hearts of Walaa and her colleagues: How to create a healthy balance between work and family life. “It made me very proud to report our actions, even though I was incredibly nervous to speak in front of so many people for the first time”, says Walaa Mohamed. The 27-year-old has been working at NatureTex in quality control for the past six years and had now contributed to the organisation of the university cooperation. “I found the library and our singing together with the students particularly exciting. Here, we felt as if we were a whole – that was a truly impressive feeling.”
After the forum, which was attended by about 50 participants, a film screening followed. The film shown was titled „Sabah El Ful“ (“Good Morning”). It deals with the daily double burden of a working mother and is part of the media campaign ANA HUNNA, that promotes a public discussion on the situation of working women in the region.
The screening was followed by a lively and occasionally controversial discussion. “One man had the opinion that it should be rather easy for women to take care of children and work at the same time”, says Afdal. In fact, the former pupil of the SEKEM School hails from a village where mothers often receive little support when they contribute to the family’s livelihoods. “I hope that this common attitude will change soon, and that I may find a partner one day that is sympathetic to our cause and helpful in managing family life”, Afdal adds. Other votes from the audience emphasized that a woman’s proper place was at home with her children. Walaa was shocked by this statement: “I had assumed that the younger people at academic institutions would have a wider horizon in terms of their view of women in society – especially since the employment of women and men alike is an entirely normal thing at NatureTex.”
The university day lead to a successful exchange between the students of the Heliopolis institution and the staff of NatureTex. Both groups are looking forward to expanding their cooperation in the future. “We do feel encouraged in our efforts to bring about an equitable society, and we are motivated to expand our commitment”, Walaa concludes.