Merck Foundation CEO Talks about their Efforts to Empower Women and Youth in Africa Dr. Rasha Kelej’s Interview done by All Africa

Our conversation with Rasha Kelej, CEO Merck Foundation on the efforts of Merck Foundation for empowering women across Africa and Other developing countries.

I am very happy that we are marking the International Women’s Day in Niger this day, with Her Excellency the First Lady of Niger, to underscore our long-term commitment to empowering women in Niger and across Africa through Merck more than a mother.

It is hard to imagine that in the 21st-century women are still being abused and subject to violence, for their inability to bear children. This is unacceptable and must be changed, and we will work hard with all our partners to create this culture shift and emphasize to everyone that women are more than just Mothers.

At Merck Foundation we do not mark women’s day, which only on the 8th of March every year, but we celebrate women every day, empowering women is in the spirit of what we do, it is a part of Merck Foundation’s DNA.

Last year we celebrated the International Women’s Day in Liberia, with the First African Female President, H.E. Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. She is a role model for women across the world. She awarded Prof. Frank Stangenberg Haverkamp, Chairman of Executive board of E- Merck KG, with ‘presidential medal of honor’ for his support to empower women through Merck Foundation’s dedicated efforts. What a great honor.

This year we are pleased to mark international Women’s Day with the First Lady of Niger, H.E. Mrs. Aissata Mahamadou Issoufou, to appoint her as an ambassador of ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ and underscore our long-term commitment to empowering childless women in Niger and across Africa. It’s a great privilege to be able to mark this day in the heart of Africa.

In October 2017, we launched Merck Foundation in Egypt with my friends, First Ladies of Chad, Niger, Guinea, Central African Republic and Chairperson of National Assembly of Namibia. They gracefully accepted to be ambassadors of ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ to empower infertile women in their countries.

In November 2017, we celebrated empowering African women Researchers in STEM through our fourth edition of UNESCO Merck Africa Research Summit MARS 2017, an annual conference of MERCK STEM program for women.

In Jan 2018, we signed an MOU with the organization of African First ladies to mark Merck Foundation’s partnership with them to empower childless women and women cancer survivors and build healthcare capacity in their countries.

I also visited childless women in Uganda to celebrate their success and new lives of dignity and independence after Merck more than a Mother intervention, they finally found their purpose in life after many years of suffering from infertility stigma and the discrimination and abuse that comes with it.

In Feb 2018, I have visited the Gambia, where Merck Foundation together with the First Lady of The Gambia, H.E. Fatoumatta Bah-Barrow encouraged the infertile and childless women in the Gambia and acknowledged them as ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ heroines for their courage to share their stories of suffering with all of us. We will set up small businesses to enable them to become independent; we will also train the first fertility specialists in the Gambia, where we make history, for the first time the Gambia will have qualified trained fertility specialists to help infertile couples and hence save these women from this stigma.

We at Merck Foundation, through all our key programs give special focus on supporting and giving equal opportunity to women to participate and benefit from those initiatives
We empower women, childless women who suffered the stigma of infertility all their lives, and we support them through ‘Merck More Than a Mother’ campaign by improving their access to information, health, change of mindset and economic empowerment.

We empower women across Africa and developing countries, childless women through Merck More than a Mother. Women like, Jackline, Berna, Grace and more than 1000 other women from Kenya, Uganda, Tanzania, Gambia, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Ghana, Nigeria, Central African Republic, Cote D’Ivoire and more, have benefited from the “Empowering Berna.” As part of this campaign, Merck Foundation established the small businesses for them so they can have a steady income and become independent and happier.

We also empower cancer women survivors through ‘Merck more than a Patient’, women like Margaret, Rose and Louise where we help to establish small businesses for them to reintegrate them into their societies.

In addition to empowering these groups of unprivileged women, we also empower women in the STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Mathematics) through providing the required training to specialize in the areas where they are underrepresented such as; healthcare and research with special focus in the field of Oncology, Diabetes, hypertension, and fertility. Christine, Nihad, Latefat, Pauline and Nanu Devi, and other women from Kenya, Uganda,Ethiopia, Nigeria, Gambia, Niger, Chad, Guinea, Sierra Leone, Liberia, Sri Lanka, Bangladesh, Nepal, Cambodia and Myanmar and more have benefited from those training courses and on the way to reach their potential and contribute significantly into their societies in a way they couldn’t do before.

This is achieved through ‘Merck Cancer Access Program’ and ‘Merck Capacity Advancement Program’, in these programs we focus mainly on women, and Youth as well. We strongly believe that the social and economic development of Africa depends on the empowerment of its women and youth, and we focus significantly on this target, to help to achieve the UN sustainable development goals (SDGs).

Women around the world have tremendous potential to excel in any field they represent, and this has been a proven fact in many facets of our world. However, they are deprived of a favorable environment to explore their real potential in many societies, especially in developing countries. I believe there is a need to redefine the status of women in the society.

We at Merck Foundation, through all our key programs give special focus on supporting and giving equal opportunity to women to participate and benefit from those initiatives. We have consciously integrated women empowerment as part of our strategy to contribute to eliminating the gender gap in our areas of focus.

As the CEO of Merck Foundation, I strongly believe in women empowerment on professional level and I am working on realizing our vision of advancing people’s lives through Science and technology with special focus on women and youth. And on the personal level; as a simple African woman from Egypt who became the CEO of a big foundation like Merck Foundation, this happened because someday, somewhere, someone empowered me, and now it’s my turn to empower other women.