UN Women champions empowerment for desert women amid energy boom in Thar

Date: Thursday, September 13, 2018

Author: Anam Abbas

Thar, Sindh, Pakistan — Tractors and dump trucks busily transporting material for a coal-fired power plant bustle amid the softly sweeping sand dunes of the sprawling Thar desert, in the province of Sindh, Pakistan.

Photo: UN Women/Anam Abbas
Female dump-truck drivers are breaking stereotypes by driving 60-tonne trucks for Engro’s powerplant. Photo: UN Women/Anam Abbas

Powering her orange dump truck, Rukhsana, 37, seems unstoppable in making a mark in this male-dominated field: “Through this driving training, I gained the strength and courage to face the world. Initially, I got a lot of criticism from my community, but I knew in my heart that this is made for me and I shouldn’t let this chance slip by. With the money that I earn, I am getting an education for my two sons, and since we have a secure income, I can dream of sending my sons to college and university, in the future. They will become what I couldn’t—a doctor.”

Photo: UN Women/Anam Abbas
Sitta Bai, 30, says, “I am doing this for myself and my generations to come. They will remember a Sitta Bai, who together with other women, drove trucks and made a history with their resilience and courage.” Photo: UN Women/Anam Abbas

In recent years, this natural-resource-rich region has attracted the attention of many local energy companies, bringing a boom in local employment opportunities. The push has also fuelled a surge in jobs for women, including in unconventional careers like transport, engineering, entrepreneurship, supply chain, etc.

In a bid to advance women’s empowerment activities and initiatives in Thar, from 5-7 September 2018, a UN Women delegation led by UN Women Pakistan’s Country Representative Jamshed M. Kazi visited Engro Energy Limited (EEL), along with its subsidiaries*. They came to support the company’s signing of the “Women’s Empowerment Principles”—an agenda produced by UN Women and the UN Global Compact to ensure that women can participate fully in economic life in all sectors.

Photo: UN Women/Anam Abbas
Team members from UN Women and Engro Energy Limited come together at the signing ceremony for the Women’s Empowerment Principles, in Thar. Photo: UN Women/Anam Abbas

Committing to further empowering women through leadership opportunities in the workplace, health and safety provisions and equal opportunities to employment, the CEO statement was signed by Shamsuddin Shaikh, Chief Executive Officer of Engro Energy, in the presence of UN Women’s Country Representative and senior officials from both organizations.

Speaking on the occasion, Mr. Shaikh said: “We have a strong commitment to gender-balancing initiatives, with a specific focus on affirmative action, which enhances women’s empowerment. As part of our commitment to the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs), our CSR-wing, the Thar Foundation, has already instituted various programmes aimed at women’s empowerment and their financial inclusion… thereby working on various thematic areas from the SDGs to develop the new breed of more socioeconomically empowered Thari women.”

He cited projects such as the Women Dump Truck Driver Programme, and Engro’s plans to scale-up the initiative and increase outreach to potential female drivers, as well as the Marvi Clinics that provide maternal and neonatal health care to the women of Thar, and the Khushaal Naari (native for “Empowered/Progressive Woman”) programme, which focuses on developing enterprise and go-to-market opportunities for women.

Photo: UN Women/Anam Abbas
Shamsuddin Shaikh, CEO, Engro Energy Limited, presents a photo album to UN Women’s Country Representative, Jamshed M. Kazi. Photo: UN Women/Anam Abbas

During the three-day trip, UN Women’s delegation learned about different empowerment initiatives for women in unconventional fields that are setting an example of industry championing gender equality in this remote area of Sindh, Pakistan. The delegation visited local communities in Thar to see the work of women artisans and rode alongside women dump-truck drivers. They also visited the “model house”, which is a pilot project for home-construction in Thar, as well as visiting a school and a hospital which are improving the lives of women and girls in particular, who now have access to basic health and education facilities.

“Managing diversity can be a strong indicator of future performance and I am delighted to know that Engro Energy Limited is already working hard to ensure women enter the workforce and are exposed to equal opportunities and rights,” said UN Women Representative, Mr. Kazi. “By joining forces, we have the potential to advance gender equality and make a real difference in people’s lives. Investments in gender equality are investments in the future. Half of the world's talent must have the opportunity to blossom.”

* Sindh Engro Coal Mining Company (SECMC), Engro Powergen Thar Limited (EPTL) and Thar Foundation (TF)

Photo Gallery

Field Visit: Thar, Pakistan