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How Investing in Women Can Transform Their Communities Too [SPONSORED]

This is the second of a four-part series brought to you by Gap, exploring the Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. program and its impact on female garment...

This is the second of a four-part series brought to you by Gap, exploring the Gap Inc. P.A.C.E. program and its impact on female garment workers.

In celebration of International Women's Day, it's important to recognize that women are often the driving force behind our communities and the world's economy. At a 2011 Asia-Pacific Economic Cooperation Meeting, Secretary of State Hillary Clinton explained that by "increasing women's participation in the economy and enhancing their efficiency and productivity, we can have a dramatic impact on the competitiveness and growth of our economies."

In fact, at a 2008 United Nations meeting in observance of International Women's Day, Inez Murray, Vice President for Technical Assistance and Programs of the Women's World Bank Network, said that women statistically spend more on children's education and health care, and are more focused on saving and creating assets. Therefore, investing in women is considered an efficient way to address poverty.

One initiative that's making this message its mission is Gap Inc.’s P.A.C.E. (Personal Advancement & Career Enhancement) program. Why is an international apparel retailer working to invest in women? "Looking at garment manufacturing around the world, 80 percent of its workforce is female," says Dotti Hatcher, executive director of P.A.C.E. global initiatives. "Also, the majority of Gap Inc. employees worldwide are women and the majority of our customer base is women. Investing in women is a natural way to create value for economies, governments, communities and families."

Gap Inc. works with many manufacturers around the world and the P.A.C.E program offers female garment workers employed by these manufacturers access to leadership training. The program uses learning modules specially created to address workers' development needs. "We provide women [that participate in the program] with the opportunity to grow their communication, problem solving, financial literacy, and time management skills," explains Hatcher. "They become more aware of issues like gender inequality, and are better able to address the issues themselves."

P.A.C.E.'s partnerships with Swasti-Health Resource Center, International Center for the Research on Women (ICRW), and humanitarian organization CARE provide insight to make the program and curriculum sustainable. Hatcher says, "What's unique about the program is that it wasn't developed in a vacuum. We did a lot of on-the-ground research and collaboration with multiple partners to find local leaders and community members, asking: who are these women working in these factories, what are their education levels, do they know about reproductive health, effective communication, financial literacy? In addition, we conducted baseline interviews with women directly, asking them about their needs."

The ICRW reports that through the P.A.C.E. program, female garment workers' confidence and belief in their own abilities increased by 81 percent after they completed the program, while their communication skills increased by 27 percent. Their personal finance savings rate increased by 69 percent in India and 35 percent in Cambodia.

Gap Inc. designed the P.A.C.E. program to provide women with tools to advance in their careers and personal lives. The program expands beyond the workplace to address how women can successfully support their families and communities as well. To make sure the program continues to serve the women’s needs, manufacturers integrate it into their operations by identifying internal staff to become P.A.C.E. trainers. Hatcher says, "The manufacturers' staff members teach periodic refresher trainings to sustain the program because they see the benefit of the program to their businesses. When workers are better educated, healthier, and happier at home, they are more productive and efficient in the workplace."

Around the world, female participation in the workforce has risen over time for all income levels, but gender inequality remains most widespread in the poorest developing nations. It's clear that critical human-rights issues must be addressed for women to truly advance worldwide, and economic advancement can help build those rights. By providing women with the life skills, technical and educational tools to become financially independent community leaders, P.A.C.E. is contributing to changing the lives of women in the countries in which it operates: Cambodia, China, India, Bangladesh, Sri Lanka, Indonesia, and Vietnam.

Illustration by Kate Slovin

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