How does a brand talk about women’s empowerment?

Writing from World Water Week in Stockholm, Hanneke Willenborg, Unilever’s Global VP for Dishwash, discusses how improving access to water can further women’s empowerment and the role business can play in global development.

Hanneke Willenborg

Hanneke Willenborg

Global Brand Development Vice President of Dishwash at Unilever

In this role, Hanneke is responsible for strategy, innovation, partnerships and programmes that help unlock women’s time through the Sunlight hand-dishwash brand.

Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations and Nobel Peace Prize laureate, once said, “There is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women”. A key route to empowerment is to address the burden of collecting water that usually falls on the shoulders of women and girls. It’s estimated that globally they spend 200 million hours every single day simply collecting water for themselves and their families – this is time that could be spent in education, working and earning, contributing to the community or simply relaxing and having fun.

This week I am joining representatives from NGOs, businesses and governments at the annual World Water Week conference in Stockholm. Events like this provide an important platform for us to share our experiences, and to learn from others too. I’ll be attending to represent Unilever’s hand-dishwash brand Sunlight, to discuss and share ideas for initiatives that support our ambition – to improve water access, save time and empower women.

Water for development

World Water Week, organised by the Stockholm International Water Institute, is the annual focal point for global water issues and has been bringing together leaders from across the water sector for 25 years. The theme of this year’s World Water Week is ‘Water for Development’, with events, exhibitions and panel discussions putting the spotlight on how water access is entwined with so many other global development areas.

When Sunlight was first introduced as a brand in 1883, it was created to ‘ease the burden on women’. Though more evenly shared nowadays, in many countries the responsibility of household chores still falls to women. As a company whose products are used by 2 billion people every day we have an opportunity and, as we see it, a moral and business imperative to drive change. That’s why we are committed to exploring, with partners, how time-saving water solutions can be a key driver of women’s empowerment and therefore of global development.

Partnerships to drive change

Sunlight is working with partners on two initiatives: Water Centres, in Nigeria, with our partner Oxfam, and an SMS notification service with NextDrop in India, which lets people know when water is running through their pipes. The initiatives address two different problems – in Nigeria women have to travel long distances to collect water, while in India they may have to wait many hours for it to flow through their taps – but they provide the same solution: saving women time.

We know we can’t solve this issue alone, so we’re working with partners. At World Water Week, Sunlight convened a panel, bringing together UN Water, Oxfam, WaterAid, UNESCO’s WWAP, NextDrop and the Water for Women Partnership to discuss initiatives that further our common ambition – to find further time-saving solutions to help more women change their lives for the better. 

In a follow-up piece soon to be published on this site, our panellists will offer their perspective on how water access and women’s empowerment intersect – I hope you come back soon to see what they have to say.

You can join the conversation on Twitter using #WaterForWomen.

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