A few years ago, I learned a little-known nugget about my Gap jeans that amazed me. I wore the denim to one of my initial meetings with Gap Inc., with whom ICRW has been collaborating on Gap Inc.’s “Personal Advancement and Career Enhancement (P.A.C.E.)” program. The effort helps female garment workers in developing countries advance beyond entry-level positions. As the corporation’s global strategic and evaluation partner, ICRW provided guidance on P.A.C.E.’s development and helps ensure that it continues to be effective and meet its long-term goals.
What I learned during that early meeting was that from the time my jeans started its journey as a swath of fabric to when it left the factory as a packaged product, it had probably been touched by 100 pairs of women’s hands from India, Cambodia or elsewhere. Since then, I’ve thought about what I had in common with the P.A.C.E. program’s garment workers. They were linked to my reality – they were part of the clothes I wore – as much as I to theirs; through surveys and questionnaires, these women had shared with me and my team so many details of their lives. We usually met for short intervals of time between their jobs and busy lives at home. I’ve felt privileged and humbled by their openness in sharing their personal transformations with me. Their achievements continue to inspire me as they did a few Sundays ago when I attended a P.A.C.E. graduation ceremony at the factory in Delhi, India.
It was an exciting day for the women, some of whom dressed up for the occasion in ornate salwar kameezes. Each woman wanted to express how she had been changed by the nine month program, which teaches women how to make sound decisions and manage their finances, among other skills. One woman credited the program with altering her entire outlook on life and preventing her from being depressed. Another shared that she had made two copies of her notes and materials from P.A.C.E., one to give to her daughter and one for her future daughter-in-law so they, too, could benefit. Other graduates spoke of feeling more confident, being able to speak openly and without fear, and learning how to responsibly manage their time during a work day.
While many of the women face adversities and still struggle to lift themselves out of poverty, they say they now have the courage and skills to take on life’s challenges. Now, unlike before, they can imagine the path to a better future for themselves and their families.
All the while, these women – those 100 pairs of hands – continue to inspire me.
Photo credit:Gap Inc