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For Survivors, Can Money Buy Happiness?

06 Jun 2014, by paul in Empowering Women, Human Trafficking Survivors, Made By Survivors Programs

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People often debate what is the most effective way to prevent women (and really anyone) from being exploited for sex or labor. Most people tend to focus on ideas such as access to a good education, building self esteem or exposing people to different cultures where women have a higher status.

All of these examples play an important role in the prevention of exploitation. However what they all have in common is they take a long to time to achieve. A person given a good education, over the course of years, will develop the skills to become more aware of the world around her, which in turn, will help her to protect herself. Building self esteem also takes many years of consistent positive reinforcement and support, something that many of us, no matter what our backgrounds, have a hard time finding. So while these ideas are a part of the much larger solution, they don’t provide immediate relief, especially for those too old to go back to school (as in the case of our girls – many would have to start at an elementary level. That’s a difficult thing to do if you’re 23 years old with only a 4th grade education).

Many Westerners feel uncomfortable with the idea that money can be a solution to a problem, but in this case money is a VERY important part of the solution. Take that 23 year old woman with a 4th grade education. It would be impossible for her to start school at the 5th grade level. You could hire a tutor to give her one on one instruction, and that should be a part of the solution, but think about how long it would take for that young woman to be ready to enter the workforce. It would take years for her to become literate, and to learn enough English, Science and Math to get a good job. She would probably never be able to hold her own compared to someone who received an equal education over the course of 10-12 years.

However, when you take that same 23 year old and spend time training her on a specific skill - such as jewelry design and production – it allows her to earn a living wage much quicker. Over half the women in our program, who have been working for at least 3 years, are earning a wage 5 times higher than a person with the same education level. Our top earning artisans earn the same as many starting positions in the private sector that require a college degree, such as teacher, account rep or veterinarian. All of the women in our program who are married are the main breadwinners in their families, supporting their husband, siblings and even parents off of their earnings. Because of gender discrimination in the workplace, it could take up to a decade for a woman from a disadvantaged background to get an education and then a job based on the qualifications that education allows her. With programs such as ours she can achieve the same thing in a quarter of the time.

This doesn’t mean that survivors shouldn’t further their education. On the contrary, earning good money allows them the freedom and the time to take their education into their own hands, taking night classes or getting tutoring. They can learn at their own pace and tailor their education to help them earn more in the field they have chosen.

Made By Survivors, and our partners, feel strongly that education plays an important part in giving a person true independence. It’s just not the only part that matters. From a practical standpoint, education must be part of a multi-faceted approach that helps women become financially independent and self-supporting as quickly as possible. For a young, single woman or a single mother, living in a country where women have less value than men , money is what matters, at least in the short term.

Maybe money can’t buy happiness, but for vulnerable women like those we work with, money can buy security, independence, pride in one’s accomplishments, and freedom.

What are your thoughts?

2 COMMENTS
  • nadine Reply

    Unfortunately, education in developing countries is a luxury that most can not afford,
    and in India in particular, the lower caste system is not even entitled to an education.
    What would they do if they had one? A rhetorical and sad question.
    These women have endured the most unimaginable horrors. I do not believe that most
    people of privilege can comprehend what it would be to rise above such trauma, no less
    offer their opinions. If a women can make a living wage after enduring such incredible hardship,
    that is incredibly empowering. Until the unlikely time that the Indian government steps in and provides
    education for all. Maybe before hell freezes over

  • I couldn’t agree more. Westerners have such a misunderstanding when things are accomplished by means other than by their own narcissistic perceptions and herded sheep stifled thought processes. I love what all of you do at Made By Survivors.

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