Full and equal participation of women in all facets of society is a fundamental human right and pivotal to our progress. Yet, around the world, from politics to education and the workplace, women and girls are vastly underrepresented. Over the last few decades, Pakistan has made strides in women’s social and economic empowerment, which comprise 49 per cent of the total population; however, a lot more needs to be done to realize their full potential.
The 2021 Women’s Day will promote the UN Sustainable Development Goal five of gender equality and women empowerment under the “#ChooseToChallenge” theme to shed light on inequality, call out biases, challenge stereotypes, and help forge an inclusive world.
Read more: Women’s empowerment- choose to challenge
As a socially responsible and premier conglomerate of Pakistan, Engro Corporation and its subsidiaries are committed to deliver shared value and solve social issues by leveraging the resources, skills, and assets of the corporate sector.
Through its social investment arm of Engro Foundation, the Company has undertaken several locally and globally acclaimed initiatives to promote women empowerment for Pakistan’s equitable future. These interventions are focused on the much-needed areas of education, skill development and provision of improved healthcare facilities, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Transforming lives through formal education
Education is a fundamental human right and central to the socio-economic progress of any country. The Economic Survey Report of Pakistan depicts that only 48 out of 100 Pakistani women can read and write. At the same time, 13.4 million girls make up around 53% of the country’s total out-of-school children. The corona pandemic may exacerbate this crisis in Pakistan as UNESCO projects that over 11 million girls – from pre-primary school to tertiary education age –may not return to school post-recovery globally.
To encourage greater school enrolment and participation, especially for girl students, Engro Foundation has supported several government-run schools located in Ghotki, Sukkur, Khairpur, and Sahiwal Districts under the School Adoption Program.
There are over 4,000 students currently enrolled in schools adopted by Engro Foundation, and the Katcha school program in Ghotki District is the area’s only education program. Once known as the stronghold of dacoits, where a girl’s education was an entirely alien concept, Katcha has been transformed with acquiring formal education becoming a norm.
The Sahara Community School, Daharki, serves 520 students from underserved neighbourhoods. The Engro Powergen Qadirpur Limited (EPQL) has constructed a middle school building dedicated to girls in 2020. Further, Engro Polymer has also partnered with The Citizens Foundation in establishing three TCF schools in areas close to Port Qasim Industrial Area in Karachi.
Attempts to introduce technology in learning have been made. Engro Reading Program was launched with a grant of PKR 22 million from USAID in the 13 schools adopted by Engro in Qadirpur and Daharki. Computer labs were established in all schools and achieved other project objectives, which included adult literacy for 200+ women from surrounding communities in basic literacy and numeracy skills. Later, experiments have been conducted with Sabaq MUSE’s blended learning model to aid the learning and teachers have gone through relevant training and periodic evaluation to support the process.
Skill development for greater economic participation
The World Bank estimates that participation of Pakistani women in the workforce remains low at around 25 per cent, with most women working either at home or on farms. Even among women with high education levels (university degree), labour force participation is only around 25 per cent.
Pakistan’s development road map “Vision 2025” sets an ambitious target to increase the female labour force participation to 45%. However, domestic workers and those employed in the informal economy have been especially hard hit by the pandemic, with nearly 72 per cent of workers, most of whom are women, having suffered from job losses or reduced hours.
“Women and girls are critical to finding solutions to the biggest challenges we face today and must be heard, valued and celebrated for society’s advancement. Engro has been empowering women and equipping them with the much-needed resources to actively contribute towards building a more equitable future for Pakistan.”
Apart from formal education, Engro also focuses on technical and vocational training and skill development programs to promote the social and financial inclusion of women. Engro, in collaboration with government and development partners, has trained 24,000 women in their dairy value chain, alternate livelihoods, vocational trade, entrepreneurship and vital life skills, making women an essential part of the change for the better.
In collaboration with the Australian Government Department of Foreign Affairs and Trade (DFAT) and the Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA), Canada, Engro launched the Partnerships and Value Expansion (PAVE) project to train 4,000 smallholder farmers in best farming practices, enabling them to become a part of the modern seed supply chain.
Under the program, the skillset of 700+ women farmers have been built in seed value chains, educating them on quality certified seed use, improved their readiness to take part in seed multiplication, and converted them to registered seed use. The project has already won three global sustainability awards, including the “Asia Responsible Enterprise Awards (AREA) 2019” in Taipei, Taiwan; “Best Shared Value Project Through Cross-Sector Partnership” in Melbourne, Australia, at the 2019 Asia Pacific Shared Value Awards, and more recently “Rushlight Sustainable Agriculture, Forestry & Biodiversity Award” held in the UK.
The WELD project is another successful program that trained over 19,000 women in better animal husbandry practices, entrepreneurship in milk collection and livestock extension services in the dairy value chain, enhancing capacity, efficiency, and dairy farmers’ output.
Under similar skills development program, dairy farm managers were trained to support the monetizing of dairy farms. Under this initiative, over 1200 dairy farmers and other workers were given the opportunity to learn from experts through contemporary training methods such as classroom training, demonstrative training, on-the-job training and exposure trips.
The Enhancing Dairy Skills Through Specialized Training program has equipped participants with extension worker training and set up micro-enterprises providing livestock extension services like vaccination, advisory, deworming etc., thus facilitating the local farming community. ‘The Pathways to Success Program’, another project in collaboration with USAID, trained over 1500 girls in vocational trade, entrepreneurship and vital life skills to empower them.
Moreover, Engro’s Farmer Connect Program trained 500 women in grading, cleaning, and preparing home-kept seed for the next crop. Community Empowerment through Livestock Development and Credit (CELDAC), funded by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP), trained female livestock extension workers in 10 districts of Sindh and Punjab. This project helped to enhance income and employment generation of rural women through livestock skills development and enabled improved livelihoods and food security at the household and community level.
At the same time, Engro Foundation, in partnership with WWF, has been providing training on alternative livelihoods to females from the indigenous fishing communities around Karachi to reduce pressure on marine fisheries resources.
To tackle the gender parity issue in the tech industry and create a pipeline of women in tech, Engro Vopak and Engro Foundation partnered with CIRCLE in 2018. Under the Tech Karo initiative, Engro has supported the training in tech and life skills and provided mentoring opportunities for young girls from the underserved community of Lyari and other parts of the city. In 2020, the program has expanded to 3 tech courses and adapted to an online model in the context of COVID-19. Three hundred students (65 per cent female) have graduated from the program, with over half of them offered internship and job opportunities.
Protecting frontline workers and improving healthcare access
This year’s I Am The Change Awards, a flagship initiative of Engro Foundation, celebrated the achievements of frontline heroes who put their lives at risk for the betterment of people and uplifting hard-hit communities. The award recipients included Dr Sonia Qureshi, Bilqees Abdul Shakoor and Sana Sharif, each receiving a cash award of PKR 500,000 in recognition of their efforts.
Read more: IATC Awards: Recognizing Frontline Heroes
Engro, in partnership with Blessing Foundation Clinic, serves communities living below the poverty line with minimum or no access to healthcare in Sukkur. To create a difference in these communities, more than 8,000 patients – mainly women and children – have so far been provided basic healthcare solutions for a healthier and more productive life.
Under the Hepatitis Program, Engro has conducted more than 1,150 community sessions, administered more than 24,400 vaccination doses and treated 143 patients.
Similarly, more than 67,000 patients have been treated over the last five years at the Dar ul Shifa Sahara Clinic in the Daharki, District Ghotki, an area generally lacking quality healthcare facilities.
Building a sustainable future for all means leaving no one behind. Women and girls are critical to finding solutions to the biggest challenges we face today and must be heard, valued and celebrated for society’s advancement. These partnerships and interventions reflect Engro’s commitment to promoting inclusive business models for poverty alleviation and overall socio-economic development. Through these efforts, Engro has been empowering women and equipping them with the much-needed resources to actively contribute towards building a more equitable future for Pakistan.