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International Women’s Day: “investing in the rights of girls and women creates more development”

In 2022, 90% of the Novo Nordisk Foundation’s humanitarian grants in open competition had a gender-sensitive perspective and focused on promoting the rights of girls and women. On the occasion of International Women’s Day, Flemming Konradsen, Senior Vice President, Social & Humanitarian, Novo Nordisk Foundation, talks about how the Foundation focuses on women’s rights in awarding humanitarian grants.

What is the role of women’s rights when the Foundation assesses a grant application in the humanitarian and social sectors?

“They are very important. Every time we consider a project, even if it has a different overall focus, we must ensure that the applicant integrates gender aspects and women’s rights and opportunities to the extent possible. Organisations are able to do so in the vast majority of cases.”

Why does the Foundation emphasise the gender equality perspective so strongly that projects with a different focus must also give it priority?

“We want to exploit all opportunities to empower  girls and women to obtain a better life. And we will not advance that agenda if we do not seize all opportunities. For example, if we are considering support for a project focusing on training of healthcare personnel in Kenya, then we assess whether some of the teachers are women, because this helps to attract and retain female students. We also need to investigate whether the curriculum  covers  gender aspects of the specific diseases, so that the students, both women and men, are also taught gender-specific conditions. Projects can be assessed from different  gender-sensitive perspectives that can and should be considered when we award a grant or initiate a project ourselves.”

Does this mean that a humanitarian project cannot obtain a grant if the project description does not include gender sensitivity?

“A criterion when we are assessing project proposals is whether they have considered the potential to improve the lives of women and ethnic minorities. When we launch an open call for project proposals, we emphasise that we give priority to applications with a gender-sensitive approach, so that is the starting-point. Applicants can almost always design a project so that it improves opportunities for girls and women: for example, by focusing on addressing the  understanding of traditional gender roles, rights and diversity.”

What characterises a successful humanitarian project that addresses the rights or well-being of girls and women?

“An example is the EIR League Jordan, which we have supported since 2020. It started as a football tournament in Jordan for Jordanian and Syrian women, with the Syrians being refugees – and most having experienced severe trauma.”

How can a football tournament improve the life situation of these women?

“Sport can leverage and strengthen well-being, community and social integration across various social groups. In Jordan, refugees comprise about 30% of the population, and this puts pressure on both social cohesion and access to education and employment, with especially women facing many barriers and often remaining outside the labour market. We have built further on the football tournament in Jordan with a coach programme for women  and a football league, which gives the women a network and a community. By enhancing their coaching skills, the women also acquire competencies that can improve their employment opportunities. The coaching programme gives the women an experience of taking control of their own situation, but it also creates better conditions for employment in the longer term. In addition, it advances the perception of women’s status in society by creating positive role models.”

“Another example from Jordan is the Najahna project, for which we awarded a grant of DKK 200 million in 2022 to PlanBørnefonden. This 5-year project creates employment initiatives for young people. For example, initiatives will be launched to ensure that the education programmes in the country better match the job market, and access to loans will be offered on very attractive terms so that young people can be able to start their own businesses. The project has a strong focus on girls and women, since they are especially dropping out of educational institutions and the labour market. One reason for this is traditional views on education and work but also more young women leaving school as a result of marriage or early pregnancy.”

Do you expect that more Foundation grants will focus on the conditions of girls and women in the future?

“Yes! The gender aspects and women’s opportunities in the projects will certainly remain key in the future. We can make a far greater impact when the projects contribute to greater diversity and inclusion and promote the rights of girls and women. Investing the Foundation’s money properly means investing differentially.”

About the Novo Nordisk Foundation

Established in Denmark in 1924, the Novo Nordisk Foundation is an enterprise foundation with philanthropic objectives. The vision of the Foundation is to improve people’s health and the sustainability of society and the planet. The Foundation’s mission is to progress research and innovation in the prevention and treatment of cardiometabolic and infectious diseases as well as to advance knowledge and solutions to support a green transformation of society.

Further information

Marie-Louise Jersin
Senior Communications Partner
+45 3049 4957 [email protected]