Everyone’s Got Individual Skills. Everyone Deserves a Chance.
As a general principle we follow at the different SEKEM and Heliopolis University premises, we seek to give all our employees the same chances no matter if they are male or female, disabled or healthy, with no regard for whatever their religion or nationality may be. The main premises are located in Sharquia and so are most of our employees. SEKEM and Heliopolis University its companies comply with hiring procedures that ensure equal opportunities during the recruiting process, but which do not follow a specific policy for local hiring.
… for Women
To support women’s empowerment, we engage in activities in- and outside the company. On the one hand, our social workers support SEKEM and Heliopolis University female employees in any work-related or personal issues. On the other hand, we strengthen the women’s position in the outer community through microcredit and education programs. Due to traditional rural cultural practices, the majority of women marry early and concentrates on family life. Therefore, the average income for women differs from the male average. NatureTex and Heliopolis University offers the opportunity for female employees to continue their work at home, especially during production peaks. This allows married women to contribute to the family income and keep their independence. Furthermore, we offer childcare for women who continue the work at the SEKEM and Heliopolis University main premises.
For SEKEM and Heliopolis University’s efforts in supporting women, World Bank and UN Women granted SEKEM the “One Business Community, Equal Opportunity Seal”.
…for People with Different Cultural Backgrounds
SEKEM and Heliopolis University is aware of intercultural and religious differences between employees, especially between Muslim and Christian rituals, and addresses them with awareness-raising and dialog, mainly during the weekly morning lectures with Dr. Ibrahim Abouleish or in some of the Monday forums at the head office. In Egypt, the population consists of around 90% of Muslims (mostly Sunni), 9% Copts, and 1% other Christians. Most of the SEKEM employees are of Islamic belief.
…for the Disabled
More than 30 disabled persons are integrated into the workplaces of the group of SEKEM companies and Heliopolis University. Most of them first took part in our special education project that takes six years. According to their capabilities and the state of health, the graduate afterward starts a three-year qualification phase for example at the cattle farm, the nursery, the paint, or sanding workshop. These are particularly safe spaces. During the first weeks of work, a teacher accompanies the student in their new environment. The amount of work gradually increases until the student feels confident in the new work. After this period, during which the student learns skills and experiences besides the continual educational process, everyone receives a certificate of qualification.
Gender Strategy for a Balanced Society
The SEKEM Group and Heliopolis University set the framework of values guiding all operations concerning its commitments regarding legal compliance, business ethics, anti-corruption, labor standards, human rights, and environmental responsibility in its code of conduct and works for a sustainable development where every human being can unfold his or her individual potential. These principles are also applied in SEKEMs educational institutions and Heliopolis University under the umbrella of the SEKEM Development Foundation (SDF) and in the Heliopolis University (HU), where students are educated in an understanding of sustainable development and the development of ethical values.
SEKEM and Heliopolis University as a community are well aware of the fact that women and men in Egypt are facing different challenges, whereby especially women are struggling to find a balance between work and family life because of traditional family roles and in particular economic dependence. Therefore, SEKEM and Heliopolis University support women for a balanced society where men and women have the same chances to make their individual choices concerning their education, work, and lifestyle.
2. Our Vision
The basis for sustainable development towards a balanced society is first and foremost equality between women and men. International studies show that including women in a country’s workforce is not only essential for the development of a balanced society, but also for economic growth. Since women in Egypt are not encouraged to gain economic and social independence – especially in rural areas, where many of our employees come from – we developed a gender strategy with guidelines on how to support women in education and at work and thereby secure their human rights and strengthen their societal role towards a gender-balanced Egyptian society. Especially because they are still mainly responsible for the upbringing of children in Egypt it is of utmost importance that they gain experiences in work and public life to be able to raise their children to become independent individuals and responsible citizens.
3. Our Values
On an individual level, everyone needs partnerships and support from their families and communities. Women need sovereignty over their lives and the right to make their individual choices. (balance between partnership and sovereignty)
In their communities, women play an integral role to maintain Egyptian traditions and values especially when it comes to mutual support and care between families and neighbors. Nevertheless, we support women to extend their margins from their homes and local communities to public and working life. (balance between expansion conservation)
In social life, women are well integrated mainly by fulfilling duties as housewives and mothers. These roles are appreciated by their families and by society as a whole, but usually, these women are depending financially on the goodwill of others. Despite the appreciation of their traditional social roles women are lacking integration in public and working life (only 23 – 24% of women in Egypt are economically active). Therefore, we support women in gaining more self-confidence to reach an equal position to men in public life. (balance between self-assertion and integration)
Any successful society is based on people cooperating with each other. Therefore, women and men should cooperate with mutual respect and care for each other beginning with the smallest societal entity, the family. In working life men and women should cooperate as equal partners in order to increase the national economy’s competitiveness, which needs them both, as its male and female workforce. (balance between cooperation and competition).
4. Equality in Education – at the SEKEM Schools
We support boys and girls alike to develop their individual skills and personality in the SEKEM School. As boys are taking handicraft classes, girls as well learn to work with wood. There is no differentiation between boys’ and girls’ activities – everyone is doing everything.
We encourage – inspired by the German concept of a girls’ day – girls to occupy professions which are traditionally occupied by men (carpentry, electrical engineering, gas and water installation, etc.) by training them in our vocational training center (VTC). Especially because female plumbers and electricians could solve the problem of men not being allowed to enter houses in daytime, when most housewives are alone.
We introduce the concept of gender equality in secondary school to all students of the SEKEM School by an informative/interactive session and different projects to inspire them to reflect about gender roles in a group process.
5. Equality in Education – at the Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development
We encourage all students at Heliopolis University for Sustainable Development (HU) to think and discuss about the role of women and men in society as they all attend a session about gender equality in the frame of the compulsory course for sustainable development in their first year at university. This session promotes the concept of gender equality as a basic value for a balanced society.
We support the activities of the students’ club (Balance Club) on campus, which is raising awareness about the importance of gender equality and supporting female students especially concerning self-assertiveness, career development, soft skills, etc.
We invite successful women or organizations for women’s rights on a regular basis to the university’s forum to shed more light on the important role socially and economically active women play in the Egyptian society, because we are aware that young Egyptian women are lacking role models to motivate them for achievements in their professional life.
6. Equality in Work
We allow all our female and male employees up to one consecutive month unpaid leave for marriage preparations/honeymoon additional to their annual leave.
We comply with the Egyptian Labor Law by allowing every female employee, who worked with us at least six months, a paid maternity leave of three months as we are guaranteeing the two additional daily breaks of half an hour each for childcare in the first two years after childbirth. This right can be claimed twice if the mother has been a consistent employee of SEKEM.
We support our employees by paying a part of the school fees for children attending the SEKEM schools and Heliopolis University and there is a baby class for the children of working mothers.
We believe that fathers’ care and attention is of utmost importance for a child, therefore we allow fathers up to one month unpaid parental leave within the first year after the birth of a child to support their wives and spend quality time with their child/children. This right can also be claimed twice.
We offer diverse working arrangements for women, wherever possible, for example by facilitating reduced/flexible working hours, home office, part-time work, and job sharing we encourage them to keep their jobs while enabling them to meet the responsibilities for their families.
We are aiming to reach a portion of 50% female employees in the workforce in all SEKEM companies and Heliopolis University in the long run, by measures like including the commitment of managers to recruit a certain percentage of women as a condition for their annual bonuses.
7. Equality in Personal Life
We clearly support a woman’s free choice to decide about her employment after marriage by encouraging her to stay in the company, but also accept any decision she may choose to make.
We provide female role models within SEKEM and Heliopolis University by publishing and promoting female success stories through corporate communications and company events.
We raise awareness and initiate a dialogue about the issue of women and work among male employees as well to gradually convince them that experiences in working and public life is important for every human being’s personal development – for women as much as for men.
Most of all human societies worldwide are male-dominated to a certain degree and therefore out of balance.
This is the reason why SEKEM and Heliopolis University believes in gender equality as a necessity for sustainable development towards a balanced society and tries to support women in every respect and actively in all its components by the above-mentioned principles and measures.
After the gender strategy came into effect, SEKEM with all its companies and (related) educational institutions will consequently develop strategies and tools for implementation.
Spreading Awareness for Gender Equality: UN Women Sponsored an Exchange Visit to SEKEM
In the framework of achieving gender equality by empowering women, representatives of NGO’s and companies from Upper Egypt were invited by UN Women to visit SEKEM. SEKEMs Gender Strategy that was launched last year was introduced to the 30 participants in order to promote, among others, the implementation of gender-sensitive programs in the working environment.
The one-day visit included a SEKEM Farm and Heliopolis University tour and an informative session about SEKEMs holistic and Heliopolis University approach, which supports creating a women-friendly working environment and promotes tools that help to integrate them into society. The UN Women representatives and the participants, who ranged from CEOs, managers, and employers of different organizations had for instance the possibility to talk to co-workers of SEKEMs company NatureTex and Heliopolis University which employs a huge number of females. They asked them questions on how they experience the different projects that are offered to support women in their working life, such as a nursery, flexible working hours, or medical advice sessions. Additionally, the guests got insights into all other SEKEM institutions including the schools and the Medical Center that all integrate the approaches of SEKEMs Gender Strategy.
For almost 40 years SEKEM and Heliopolis University is fostering gender equality by empowering girls and women – the fifth of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), which have been recently published by the United Nations. This engagement also includes awareness-raising among society. Hence, the UN Women visit had been one further step in implementing the goals of SEKEMs Gender Strategy for a Balanced Society which enabled SEKEM and Heliopolis University to spread awareness for the topic on a wider scale.
Breaking the Wall in Our Minds: SEKEM and Heliopolis University Presents its Commitment to Gender Equality at G7 Summit
“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 and Heliopolis University 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 and Heliopolis University 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 be 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 policymakers, governments, and private sector”, the SEKEM and Heliopolis University representative said. He introduced SEKEMs and Heliopolis University’s 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?”
Education, as the Pakistani activist and youngest-ever Nobel Prize laureate Malala Yousafzai once emphasized, plays a great part in SEKEMs Gender Strategy too. Education is the key to tolerance, understanding, and 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 and Heliopolis University are 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 and Heliopolis University seek 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.
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 practices, 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 SEKEM and Heliopolis University institutions to empower women according to the SEKEM and Heliopolis University Gender Strategy.
SEKEM and Heliopolis University 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.