Thomas Abouleish at G7 Summit representing SEKEM and its Gender Strategy at the opening panel discussion

Breaking the Wall in Our Minds: SEKEM Presents its Commitment to Gender Equality at G7 Summit

After SEKEM recently launched its Gender Strategy for a Balanced Society, the initiative also attended the G7 Summit for “Economic Empowerment of Women”.

“Today 26 years ago, the Berlin wall came down and Germany was reunified. A process which took years and in some areas remains incomplete”, Thomas Abouleish said on 9 November at a G7 Summit in Berlin. “The first step in overcoming gender inequality is to destroy the wall we have in our minds, separating females and males with regard to opportunities of development and equality of participation in society”.

SEKEMs Chief Relations Officer attended the opening panel discussion of the G7 conference under the headline “Economic Empowerment of Women – Unlock the Potential” next to key representatives from governments, private sector and civil society, for instance H.E. Rula Ghani (First Lady of the Islamic Republic of Afghanistan), Dr. Gerd Müller (Federal Minister for Economic Cooperation and Development, Federal Republic of Germany), Rui Matsukawa (Director of the Gender Mainstreaming Division, Ministry of Foreign Affairs, Japan), Dr. Papias Malimba Musafiri (Minister for Education, Republic of Rwanda) or Lakshmi Puri (Assistant Secretary-General of the United Nations). From 9 to 10 November they and other decision-makers from across the world met in Berlin to discuss how to raise gender awareness in work and life.

Unlocking Human Potential in All Dimensions

After SEKEM recently launched a comprehensive Gender Strategy for a Balanced Society – possibly still unique in Egypt – the initiative was invited to showcase how to take action in strengthening gender equality. Hence, during his speech, Abouleish highlighted that inequality must approached from many aspects at the same time. It needs commitment from all sectors leading to measurable results which then have to be followed up upon, quite similar to financial indicators or legal regulation. “It is not enough to be willing to address gender equality, but we have to actively fight for it – along all dimensions”, he stated.

One of the G7 Summit’s main topics addressed women in the food production sector, a topic of high relevance to Egypt and also SEKEM. 70% of Egyptian food is coming from small-holding farmers, of which 80% of the work is carried out by female workers. Still, profit made from this work usually is received by men who sell the crops and who frequently seen as the managers of household income. Owning land, too, is also frequently the privilege of men, a fact that has a direct impact on the availability of resources and productive assets to others.

Training and Education for Women and Men Alike

Even though the summit focused on the economic empowerment of women, Thomas Abouleish stressed on the fact that in order to empower women, short-, medium- and long-term actions on a number of levels are required. He pointed out that in short term, the focus should be placed on awareness raising on a global scale. “Role models have to stand up to inspire others to stand up and create opportunities that have then to be guaranteed by policy makers, governments, and private sector”, the SEKEM representative said. He introduced SEKEMs holistic development approach to the participants: “Next to the policy framework, training and education programmes are required to give women the skills to take opportunities and match requirements.” Abouleish underlined that the same training and awareness programmes should be made available to men, as a greater understanding of the ultimate importance of gender balance is a challenge of all of society. “We urgently need a change of view with regard on how we see each other and how we see ourselves – not only in developing countries. Where is, for instance, a female “James Bond” character without focusing solely on sexual appeal?”

Thomas Abouleish at G7 Summit representing SEKEM and its Gender Strategy at the opening panel discussion
Thomas Abouleish at G7 Summit representing SEKEM and its Gender Strategy at the opening panel discussion

“One child, one teacher, one book and one pen can change the world.” Malala Yousafzai

Education, as the Pakistani activist and youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai once emphasised, plays a great part in SEKEMs Gender Strategy too. Education is the key to tolerance, to understanding, and to empathy. “We have to make sure that we are not only offering education to everyone, regardless of their gender, but also to rethink our schools and the schooling system itself”, Thomas Abouleish stated. SEKEM is convinced, that it is only through education that the wall in the minds of many people, that leads to inequality, can be torn down – today and in the future.

SEKEM seeks to promote sensitivity also with regard to advertising. It supports girls and boys alike to excel in the same professions and jobs. The German actress and medical doctor Dr. Maria Furtwängler-Burda also drew attention to this issue during the summit and pointed out that everyone can do something right now to empower women, by standing up against inequality and sexualization in daily life.

Celebrate Equality

The high-profile conference concluded that gender inequality is a multi-faceted problem. It requires actions on various levels, in cultural, societal, economic, and ecological fields. All these sectors have to come up with concrete steps towards an integral solution. “We have to unite and to raise the voice, share best practice, and help others to follow”, Thomas Abouleish said during the panel discussion. “A balanced society requires women and men to bring development towards a sustainable and equitable future.”

Thomas Abouleish received additional applause as he could not only present his views but also provide examples of activities already carried out by SEKEMs institutions to empower women according to the SEKEM Gender Strategy.

SEKEM and the other companies that participated in the G7 conference for women empowerment could unify in many targets: in the fight against sexual harassment and for equality, for human rights, for gender balance in governments, in the private sector, in schools, and NGOs, in public and in private life. “It is a long and difficult way, but it is crucial for mankind to get started, to begin living peacefully, and to unlock their tremendous human potential”, Thomas Abouleish concluded in Berlin and returned to SEKEM with huge international recognition of SEKEMs Gender Strategy for a Balanced Society.

Christine Arlt

Read SEKEMs Gender Strategy for a Balance Society
SEKEMs Women Empowerment Program
A Society with two Wings – SEKEM Celebrates Equality