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Three ways we’re putting the ‘power’ into women’s empowerment


As well as a chance to harness social change, women’s empowerment also makes good economic sense. Here we look at how some of our brands are helping women mean business.

Unilever womens empowerment

Social change, economic sense

Emma Martina Luigia Morano is the world’s oldest living person. She’ll be 118 this year. That’s a brilliant lifespan – but it still falls short of the 170 years that the World Economic Forum says is the time required to close the gender pay gap between men and women.

Women’s empowerment is a chance to harness social change. According to the UN Women’s flagship report women do 75% of all the world’s unpaid work, and yet spend on average 90% of their salaries on their families, creating a positive ripple effect across their communities.

It also makes economic sense. Companies with a strong track record of gender diversity are 15% more likely to have higher earnings than their peers.

Here’s how three of our brands are working hard to put the ‘power’ into women’s empowerment.

Dove: Helping girls become strong women and future leaders

When women and girls don’t feel good about the way they look, it can have more serious consequences than several wardrobe changes.

The Dove Global Beauty and Confidence report found that 5 in 10 women and 7 in 10 girls have not been assertive in their opinion or stuck to a decision in part because of self-esteem about their looks.

It’s a behaviour that can impact their involvement in the classroom, the workplace or career, and it is just one of the key issues Dove’s body confidence and self-esteem outreach programme is aiming to change. In 12 years, it has already reached more than 23 million people across 139 countries, and Dove has committed to reaching an additional 20 million by 2020.

This includes girls who were positively impacted by Dove’s partnership with the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts (WAGGGS). Together, Dove and WAGGGS created a programme called Free Being Me, which helps young girls see that their opinions and views matter and can make a difference.

“Young women have been leading programmes at national and state level, so it’s been a platform for them not just to learn about body confidence, but to grow in themselves as young women leaders,” says Anita Tiessen, CEO of the World Association of Girl Guides and Girl Scouts. So far it’s reached 3.5 million girls in 125 countries, and there is more to come. Now that’s what you call ‘girl power’!

Sunlight: Upskilling women, creating a community, saving time for families

In Nigeria, a solution to the water scarcity problem faced by one community has also proved to be an effective way to empower women. In unlocking the time usually spent on fetching water, women now have a greater choice on how to invest that time more productively. For some, it has also presented an employment opportunity and the chance to develop business skills.

Through a partnership with Technoserve, we have set up a number of Sunlight Water Centres. These provide communities with easy access to safe, affordable water and reduce the time women spend trekking to wells and rivers to fetch sometimes poor quality water for the household. The centres also double up as the village shop selling food and goods. They even offer phone charging and mobile banking facilities.

For the women who manage the centres, it is a life-changer. Not only does it give them a salary and useful skills, but also an important position at the heart of their community.

Centre manager Charity, explains why it is so empowering: “I enjoy hearing the name ‘woman entrepreneur’. It increases my dignity and self-esteem, and gains me respect from other members of my community. In fact, I was recently invited to join the committee of a development association in the Kubacha community to organise an event to raise awareness on the importance of unity, and peaceful and harmonious coexistence.”

Barbara Ryl, Sunlight Global Brand Manager, says: “These centres highlight just how much water scarcity can be a barrier to progress. By making access to safe water easier, we are able to positively impact the health and wellbeing of a thriving community. We can unlock the potential in so many women who otherwise didn’t have the time to invest in either their own businesses or support their community or children’s education. The success of the centres is a testament to all that potential that was waiting to be set free.”

The initiative is still in its infancy, but we have plans to scale up to 1,000 sites. It also presents an incremental business opportunity of up to €20 million to Unilever.

Vendor outside her shop

Radiant: Enhancing confidence, helping women progress through entrepreneurship

Ever had a lightbulb moment when you think: “What a brilliant idea, I wish I had the confidence to make it happen”? Laundry detergent brand Radiant – called Brilhante in Brazil – learnt that 70% of women wanted to start their own business, but only 7% felt they had the confidence or skills to do so. Brilhante helps aspiring women learn skills and build confidence through its web-based women entrepreneurship programme called Escola Brilhante, or The Academy of Shine.

For many, juggling work and family can leave little time for personal development. What’s more, rejection and the fear of failure can lead to low self-esteem, which also holds people back. With Escola Brilhante, women can spend as little as five minutes a day to equip themselves with the skills and confidence to turn their new business idea into reality.

“I don’t think I knew how brave I could be until I started my own business,” says Ana Alice Vercesi. Wanting more from her current career and with a business idea that would see her working with pets, Ana took part in Escola Brilhante.

The course helped her put her plan into action and, as Ana explains, “Suddenly people were paying me for a job I love doing. Today I have so much more confidence! Escola Brilhante gave me that. My life has a renewed purpose and I’ve discovered I can achieve much more than I thought possible.”

Swagata Sharma, Radiant Global Brand Manager, explains: “To date, our Escola Brilhante programme has supported 165,000 women. Business readiness among these women has more than doubled, showing that they aspire to be bold and want to shine in their careers. Based on these learnings, we have taken the principles of this programme and rolled them out in other markets, including South Africa.”

Woman walking her dogs

Equal rights, equal investment

“In this world, not everyone has the same opportunities – the right to education, the right to a job, the right to food,” Paul Polman told The Huffington Post. “One of the biggest possibilities that we have globally is to give equal rights to men and women. If we would just invest not more, but the same in women and girls as we invest in men, the global economy could be bigger by about 28 trillion in the next 15-20 years alone.”

Our brands helping women mean business is just the start. Here’s to Unilever continuing to being #boldforchange on International Women’s Day and beyond.

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