April 4, 2012
Women helping women
In the documentary film Calcutta Hilton, the unfortunate reality of Indian women living in Calcutta ("Kolkata" in their tongue; the capital of West Bengal, India) was revealed.
Every night, the women dress up in their best clothes and line the streets of Sonnagachi, where men both foreigners and locals—pick their lover-for-the-night. Non-locals who happen to pass by the sex district can only comment and be surprised at how the usually uneventful area during the day suddenly becomes alive at night.
The women force an eager look while waiting for a customer—this despite the fact that they despise the whole trade of prostitution. The only thing pushing them to go through such humiliation and disgrace is the reality that, in that area, there are no alternative jobs for women.
Based on the film, one would get the impression that the women of Calcutta can only live their lives treading one of two paths: either they get in line and engage (unwillingly) in this unsavory trade, or they become dependent on men all their lives. A woman, it seemed, depended on her father during childhood, her husband during marriage, and her sons during old age. Once a woman chooses to earn a living through prostitution, however, she is immediately considered an "untouchable"—the lowest rank in the Indian caste system—and therefore is condemned to remain powerless all her life.
The documentary presented the better side of things once Kerry and Annie Hilton came into the picture. As firm believers of going beyond short-lived charity, the two established a jute bag-making business named Freeset amongst the poor, powerless women of Sonnagachi, freeing them from their previous work and turning them into businesswomen.
"I AM A SHOPPER AGAINST DISCRIMINATION."
This was how the World Fair Trade Organization began their "Women Empowering Women" seminar—by showing that there are societies in the world that still treat women unjustly. The forum essentially focused on the fact that fair trade should uphold "fair" in every sense of the word, and should naturally be against discrimination of any kind.
Like what the documentary showed, some communities in different countries make it harder for women to gain access to job opportunities, promotions, salary raises and the like. In 2004, the WFTO said that in the US, women's wages were only 76.5 per cent that of the men's, which must mean that a bleaker picture exists in less-developed countries. On a brighter note, however, although men still dominate the top positions in the corporate world, women have showed significant progress in this field, starting with our own Mariels Almeda Winhoffer who has been named as the newest president of IBM Philippines earlier this year.
In the seminar, the WFTO also decided to highlight the beautiful reality of Filipinas empowering fellow Filipinas who may be in a similar situation through social entrepreneurship—proving that they are an institution that not only promotes fair trade economy but does this, more importantly, for the betterment of everyone.
TRADE, NOT AID
Teaching a man how to fish is always a better option rather than merely giving him one, said Annalyn Blardony, co-owner of a 10 year-old jewelry-making business called Dam Good Stuff, Inc. (DGSI) and a guest speaker at the WFTO forum.
She explained that the company was founded by Raymond and Carol Cunningham in 2002 to develop and fund livelihood programs for families affected by the San Roque Dam Project (SRDP) in San Manuel and San Nicolas, Pangasinan, as well as in Itogon, Benguet. Since then, and even when the foreign engineers left, it has provided job opportunities for the women who, without the business, would otherwise be forced to find work overseas or partake in subsistence farming, which is the only other form of living available in those areas.
Economic recession and a very competitive market have definitely caused some financial hurdles for the company to overcome. Proving, however, that everything can be worked hard for, Blardony said that Dam Good Stuff, Inc. remains a small but strong jewelry-making business today, with 13 full-time women employees who enjoy the same benefits as any regular employee of a private corporation.
"Our employees are very grateful that they don't have to leave their families just to make ends meet," said the entrepreneur. "I'm glad our business is able to provide that."
World Fair Trade Organization-Asia is located at Unit 201 JGS Building, #30 Scout Tuason St., Quezon City and can also be contacted at (632) 415-2219. Dam Good Stuff, Inc. has their Manila office at Unit 303, 3/F, One Corporate Plaza, #845 Arnaiz Avenue, Legazpi Village, Makati City. For inquiries, you may call their trunkline at (632) 840-5183.