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Empowering Female Workers Through Education

Amplifying Their Voices: How 1 Huge Company Is Investing in Female Workers

It was a beautiful Monday morning in New York City as I strolled into the SoHo House for breakfast and a special screening of the short film, One Million Stories. One Million Lives Changed. The film was created by Vogue in partnership with Gap Inc.'s P.A.C.E. program (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement), which provides education and training for female workers across the globe. The 12-minute documentary-style film shines a light on how access to education has changed the lives of three Sri Lankan tea plantation workers (Mary, Margaret, and Puwanshwary) who are enrolled in the P.A.C.E. community program.

As a young woman who feels privileged to be where I am in life and who often looks back at where my ancestors came from, I understand how their sacrifices have helped shaped my life today, and this short film tugged all the right heartstrings for me! I found this project very moving and was fortunate enough to ask a few questions about it of Dotti Hatcher, executive director of P.A.C.E.

POPSUGAR: How did P.A.C.E. begin, and what inspired you to make a documentary on this subject?

Dotti Hatcher: P.A.C.E. was launched in 2007 to provide access to education and life skills training for female garment workers in facilities that manufacture Gap Inc. clothing. Through evaluation and measurement, we recognized the positive impacts the program was having on participants' lives, and in 2013 we expanded this initiative beyond garment factories to community settings. In making this documentary . . . we focused on Sri Lanka because of the unique disparity between the country's literacy rate, which is quite high [at an average of 90 percent], compared to the literacy rate for women on tea estates, which is significantly lower [at 67 percent]. Through P.A.C.E., tea estate workers are gaining the knowledge needed to realize their full potential and open doors to new opportunities. We want people to see the difference education through a program like P.A.C.E. can make.

PS: What do you hope people walk away with after watching this short film?

DH: Through the partnership with Condé Nast, we are able to bring the subject of women's education, the value of education more generally as we look to expand to girls, and the role of programs like P.A.C.E. to a new audience. We know that education changes lives — that's why we are so committed to P.A.C.E. and hope that's the message that viewers take away from the film.

PS: What does P.A.C.E. mean to you and what do you hope women and girls get out of it in the long run?

DH: I feel P.A.C.E. and P.A.C.E.-like programming are more like a social movement, a social movement that allows women — wherever they are in their life journey, however much or little formal education they have obtained — to gain new insights, new knowledge, to fulfill their dreams. To be a part of this type of social movement, to see the appreciation of those that participate as their eyes are open to new possibilities, to know that you played a role in their new awakening is beyond explanation, it's almost like knowing you have fulfilled your own destiny.

PS: At the SoHo House, you were keen on saying that you didn't love the word "empower" or the notion that you are "giving these women a voice," as they already have a voice. Can you go into detail about how your preferred word is "amplify," and how you hope to amplify these women's lives in general?

DH: I want women to believe in themselves, and in their own ability to determine their futures. I don't want any women to believe that someone else had to "give them voice." I was raised by a strong father figure and an equally strong mother. Both taught me that what I could achieve or become in life could only be determined by myself. I remember my Dad saying, "Use your voice, don't let others determine your worth — use your voice." I hope I bring that same support and encouragement to all women, especially those that are part of this program.

Strength, perseverance, and dedication are characteristics of women globally.
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PS: I love that P.A.C.E. is increasing their reach to adolescent girls now. How do you hope to impact the younger generation of girls with P.A.C.E.?

DH: I hope that through this program, young girls will develop a belief in self. They will determine their own sense of beauty, they will reach for the stars, beyond the things that traditionally may have been available to them. I hope they will see the possibilities and set a course to achieve them — whatever possibilities they seek.

PS: Watching this film, I felt as if these women were every woman, so capable and maybe unaware of their potential at a certain point but now coming to terms with their own strength and capabilities. Did you get to speak with these women about their "aha" moments of learning their amazing strengths?

DH: I made a decision not to ask that question when we were there to film. The three women who were portrayed in the film had not yet completed the program. I look forward to going back and sitting with these women and asking that very question. Although they have made amazing strides and have gained new awareness and learnings, I think their "aha" moment is yet to come. I can't wait.

PS: After the screening, you mentioned you hoped people didn't feel "sympathy" for these women, and as [director Vanessa Black] mentioned, we as a Western nation often have a tendency to say things like, "Their lives are so hard," when films showcase this kind of content. If there was one thing you could tell viewers prior to watching this short film, focused on women in a faraway land, what would it be?

DH: I think it is important to acknowledge that even though the women in the film are in a different country and their day-to-day lives may be different from those of the women watching the film, at the end of the day, we all want the same things for ourselves and our families. Strength, perseverance, and dedication are characteristics of women globally. This documentary shines light on how this is manifested in three amazing Sri Lankan women — there's a sense of shared humanity that we hope will be felt by all those that watch this film.

Image Source: FTP Edelman
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