Photo by UNHCR/Blane Venter
11 October 2018, Johannesburg, South Africa. Women industry leaders and entertainment influencers launched the Women’s Business Network at the Saxon Hotel in Johannesburg on International Day of the Girl Child. The day aims to highlight and address the needs and challenges girls’ face, while promoting girls' empowerment and the fulfilment of their human rights. In partnership with UNHCR, the UN Refugee Agency, the network convenes women leaders to empower women and girls who have been forced to flee their homes because of conflict and persecution in Africa.
Welcoming network members, Inaugural Chair of the network and well-known South African philanthropist, Edith Venter, said: “Our duty as women business leaders is to use our expertise, networks and resources to support refugee women and young girls on the African continent who are often the most marginalized, starting with the education of girls.” Venter also used the opportunity to express her appreciation to the Saxon Hotel for generously sponsoring the launch of the network.
Members of the network include: Executive Head of Gender Empowerment of the Vodacom Foundation, Angela Abrahams; Head of Old Mutual Foundation, Millicent Maroga; Group Chief Executive Officer of Travel With Flair, Johanna Mukoki; Head of Group Inclusion at Standard Bank Group, Wendy Orr; Founder & Chief Executive Officer of Lionesses of Africa, Melanie Hawken; Vice President for Human Resources at Unilever Africa, Mechell Chetty; and Head of Stakeholder Relations of Old Mutual South Africa, Mandisa Mathobela.
“The establishment of this network is critical. I strongly encourage the business community to not only support the cause of refugees but also to strategically explore the potential of an untapped market which can be cultivated through the empowerment of women and girls,” said Mandisa Mathobela.
The Women’s Business Network for UNHCR was created to convene businesswomen, who are passionate and committed to making a lasting difference in the lives of refugees, and the communities they reside in. The objective of the platform is to generate dialogue, and positively contribute toward, life-saving strategies for the advancement of the continent’s development through advocacy and fundraising activities.
Officer in Charge for UNHCR’s Regional Office for Southern Africa, Aicha Limam, said: “Currently, levels of displacement have reached an unprecedented level of 68.5 million people – approximately 76 per cent are women and children. Africa hosts the majority of the world’s forcibly displaced population which stands at 24.2 million. 61 per cent of refugee children have access to primary education, compared to an international average of 91 per cent. At secondary level, only 23 per cent of refugee adolescents attend school compared to 84 per cent globally. Moreover, although refugee girls make up half of the school-age refugee population, they are only half as likely to enrol in secondary school as their male peers.”