How can companies support International Women’s Day?

by  Nicole Malick, Head of Corporate Social Responsibility at NRS International

When women are empowered, humanity benefits socially, politically and economically. Yet despite many years of promoting gender equality, inequalities continue around the world. The ambitious global development targets set by the UN Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) can only be achieved if gender equality becomes the norm. Women have a vital role to play, and in this blog, I will look at some of the practicalities faced by companies when implementing gender equality initiatives.

Bilqees Sarwar Hospital staff | Gender Equality

Having previously worked in gender equality programmes in public and civil society sectors across the Middle East, I knew that economic empowerment was critical to achieving gender equality. However, I was skeptical of private sector incentives until I joined NRS International, the family-run company that develops and manufactures products for the humanitarian aid, public health and development sectors.

I applied to join the NRS International team in 2014, primarily because of their commitment to providing local employment opportunities in rural Pakistan. At that time, I was working in Afghanistan with the Kandahar City Department of Women’s Affairs representative, as a Gender Advisor. She would regularly request that I build a factory to provide jobs for women, where they could earn a meaningful salary. Bear in mind that Kandahar City was a main base of the Taliban and had witnessed inhumane treatment of women and girls. This was a challenging environment to promote the economic empowerment of women. Yet, her request never wavered because she understood the importance and magnitude of financial independence for woman. Her conviction and determination to foster women’s rights through dignified employment opportunities remains with me and  is now the foundation of my work with NRS International.

 Promoting gender equality at NRS International

NRS International and its factory, H. Sheik Noor-ud-Din & Sons in Lahore, Pakistan, has proudly employed women, even in top management, since the company’s inception 40 years ago. We recognise that commercial success results not only from quality, cost effective products, but also from a diverse workforce. In our Dubai headquarters, for example, we currently employ 50 staff, from 20 different countries. So wherever disaster strikes, we have staff that speak the language and understand the culture and priorities of the country.

We deploy a ‘gender lens’ when creating new products. One recent example was a solar solution we developed in partnership with IFRC and PRACTICA Foundation for refugees and migrant populations. Our partners wanted to create a fit-for-purpose solution that could provide security for women; a dual purpose product providing bright light and the ability to charge a mobile phone. The result, the Solar Shelter Kit, was the first solar product to incorporate temporary shelter considerations into its design.

We provide employment for women in Lahore, Pakistan. Our female unit, which employs 150 women, is a result of NRS International’s commitment towards empowering communities. Our factory also has dedicated prayer areas, transportation, and ‘female friendly’ spaces to ensure employee safety and comfort.

NRS International | Gender Equality Programme

In 2015, in order to strengthen our commitment towards gender quality and women’s empowerment, we signed the UN Women’s Empowerment Principles (WEPs). These provide tangible, and actionable, instructions for companies to promote gender equality and empower women. Recognising our work in advocacy, we were selected to co-chair the WEP taskforce as a member of the UN Global Compact Steering Committee in the UAE. We are using this leadership opportunity to encourage family-owned, local and multinational companies to commit to the WEPs and advocate for change.

Moving forward

This year we have also made a commitment to dedicate 25% of our charitable activities and projects to improving the lives of women and girls, a commitment which will be increased to 30% by 2030. We have also opened an office for the Bilqees Sarwar Foundation at the International Humanitarian City in Dubai and will scale up our education projects across the region, with a specific focus on girls’ education and education in emergency settings.

While there is still room for improvement, our dedication and commitment to empowering women in the workplace remains at the forefront of our work in 2017. We recognise that we cannot do this alone and like that government official in Kandahar, we want to continue to provide meaningful work opportunities for woman and help achieve SDG 5 (Gender Equality).

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