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A Congress Bag for Women’s Empowerment

09 Mar 2020

International Women’s Day: ESMO supports women in South Africa to become autonomous workers

ESMO’s partnership with a social enterprise producing eco-friendly congress bags helps women in townships around Cape Town to become autonomous workers by running sewing cooperatives.

On the occasion of International Women’s Day, ESMO, the leading professional organisation for medical oncology, affirmed its commitment towards “An equal world is an enabled world”, through the partnership with Township Patterns for the sustainable production of congress bags for its meetings.  Township Patterns is a social enterprise supporting a network of seven sewing cooperatives employing 70 women in various communities around Cape Town, South Africa.

“Gender equality is a social responsibility: everyone can take an active part toward its achievement,” said ESMO President Solange Peters. “As a professional society, we are at the forefront to address inequalities among female oncologists, and our activities are fueled by strongly believing in empowering women across every discipline and industry sector. Sometimes we just do not realise that every little action we take, such as selecting the right partner for producing gadgetry at meetings, may have an impact on global sustainability, and I am proud that ESMO is making wise choices in this regard.”

By commissioning over 20,000 eco-friendly bags since 2017, ESMO has actively contributed to empowering 30 women across four cooperatives within the Township Patterns network. The Township Patterns network was launched in 1997 with the aim to create job opportunities for women from the townships, where lack of employment opportunities was forcing mothers to commute long distances to towns leaving their children on the streets back at home. “What we do is that we offer women to start up sewing cooperatives in their communities, and we provide them with all the machines, equipment and training they need for their business to take off,” explained Township Patterns COO Jelena Milovic.

Every re-usable and eco-friendly bag which is sold translates into money that goes directly to women with a high labour content - the cooperatives income being at 25% of bag value. A part of the company income is used to fund sewing, accounting and business courses for women as well as monitoring activities to measure the long-term sustainable impact of the project at a community-level. “Women working in cooperatives are not our employees but our business partners,” continued Milovic. “We have created a solid relationship and strong business processes and most of these cooperatives have been within our network for many years now.”

Beyond gender equality, the project is making a difference in other five out the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals (SDG) – no poverty, decent work and economic growth, reduced inequalities, sustainable cities and communities, responsible consumption and production. Talking about women empowerment through entrepreneurship, cooperative chairlady Asakhe Sisilana concludes, “In the cooperative, we are able to support each other by saving money collectively as well as creating a fund for difficult times. Also, the work has helped us to fix our homes and get ready for wintertime to make sure our families are dry and warm. With a steady job, the ladies are in control of their money and that is powerful.”

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