In a modern world, we tend to ignore problems that seem out of our control. We don’t want to feel powerless or to feel as if our voice is irrelevant. But for women all over the world right now, this feeling is all too familiar. From vulnerable women in our own communities to those on the other side of the world, there is a constant sense of powerlessness that haunts them every single day of their lives. When no one pays attention to the poor and marginalized, how can they ever hope to gain a voice, a platform, or even a sustainable career?
There are millions of women who live in marginalized communities: whether they are immigrants, displaced by political turmoil; born into disadvantaged families or communities; or overlooked due to their financial or social status. And there are just as many reasons why a woman may end up in a desperate situation and therefore be at risk of exploitation. It is our responsibility to support these women with our money, our time, and most importantly, our genuine care and concern.
But how can we ever hope to make a difference when the need is so great? Is there really a solution to the myriad of social and economic issues that cause exploitation?
There will never be a “one size fits all” solution to help the many vulnerable women all over the world, but one important place to start lies in emphasizing the value of dignified employment.
What Is Dignified Employment?
Dignified employment represents more than just “getting a job.” For marginalized women, jobs may be few and far between and are usually exploitative: providing minimal wages in exchange for extreme, demanding work. Dignified employment is all about providing others with a job that pays fair, sustainable wages in a positive work environment; a job which teaches skills that can be developed, utilized, and improved upon; a job a worker can take pride in. When a person’s focus is not simply on survival from one day to the next, they have the potential to live without fear and direct their motivation to greater things.
Giving the opportunity of dignified employment decreases the risk of exploitation, brings hope and opportunity, and positively affects entire communities.
The Risk of Exploitation
Where there are overlooked and marginalized women, there will always be a thriving market for exploitation. Whether women are being abused sexually, overworked and underpaid, or even forced into slavery, exploiters know how to take advantage of people in desperate situations. And if they know how to target these people, we should also be aware of who is most vulnerable in our community and beyond.
In a 2016 study by the International Labor Organization, it was shown that in any day in 2016, 40 million people were trapped in slavery, including 25 million people in forced labor and 15 million in forced marriage. 71% of these victims were women-- and 99% of sex trade victims were also women.
The vast majority of these women were marginalized and overlooked in their communities, and were therefore the most vulnerable to exploitation. The poor, the displaced, and the ostracized are all potential targets of abuse and slavery.
But when these people have no opportunities, no financial stability, and no job prospects, how can they ever escape these situations? Trapped in this reality, it can be a mere matter of time before they will fall victims to exploitation.
In situations like these, the value of dignified employment cannot be overstated.
The gift of a stable, sustainable income is one which these women may not even have the luxury to dream of. The ability to provide for oneself and one’s family sounds simple, but is next to impossible for many marginalized women. If they have an opportunity to work, it often comes with ridiculously low salaries, inhumane work conditions, and severe discrimination.
Employing these marginalized members of society may be popular in theory, but few people are committed to actualizing this goal. Teaching women useful skills and professions usually comes before finding them jobs, which is certainly labor-intensive for everyone involved. But once these objectives are realized, even on a very small scale, they can have far-reaching results that empower vulnerable women all around the world.
The greatest way to prevent sexual and financial exploitation is to teach vulnerable women marketable skills and to help them find careers with fair, livable wages that will ensure dignified employment.
Long-Term Benefits of Employment
Giving vulnerable women stable employment can have long-reaching effects far beyond the immediate benefits. When Vietnamese immigrants arrived in America during the Vietnam War, many felt isolated and helpless due to the language barrier and entirely new culture. Separated from their homes and families, many Vietnamese women were desperate for employment but had no idea where to start.
Popular Hollywood actress and activist Tippi Hedren stepped into this void to teach these women marketable skills. When they admired her beautiful nails and expressed interest in learning how to create them, her stylist taught just 20 women nail art and design. Today, millions of Vietnamese women all over America and beyond take pride in their work as nail technicians. This skill has become a Vietnamese tradition-- and it all began with a few immigrant women who were given a job opportunity and excelled in their field.
Ultimately, teaching skills like this isn’t just for the immediate beneficiaries-- it is also for the generations which come after them and slowly bring hope and change into a dark situation. And when vulnerable women can receive employment and learn marketable skills, they are enabled to demand fair wages; to have a voice; to be independent; and to take pride in supporting themselves.
Permission to Dream
Many women in male-centered cultures are never encouraged to receive an education, let alone work independently to provide for themselves and their family. Therefore, the impact a woman can make simply by finding dignified employment is immense. The ability to provide for oneself brings a feeling of stability and security that many of us take for granted today.
When vulnerable women have the ability to look ahead of the next day, worrying about their own survival, they can give themselves permission to dream-- to have hope and aspirations beyond the immediate future.
Can we imagine our lives without the freedom to dream?
Are we willing to sacrifice our own time and resources so others can experience this freedom as well?
“Global Estimates of Modern Slavery.” International Labor Organization, 2017.
Morris, Regan. 2015. "How Tippi Hedren Made Vietnamese Refugees Into Nail Salon Magnates". BBC News. https://www.bbc.com/news/magazine-32544343