Friday, January 16, 2009

The 21st century slavery (Part VI)


Dreams, aspirations and reality

I had an interesting discussion with some people recently about employment opportunities for the rehabilitated women. The issue was about whether an expat living in Cambodia would be willing to hire these women as nannies. This idea came about when I discovered that there is a high demand for nannies here among the expat community. In Phnom Penh, there is a high concentration of international NGOs and UN agencies and since it is a family accompanied mission area, many staffs bring their families along. When both parents work, it is common for them to hire a nanny to look after their children.

Unfortunately, there is very little supply for this since many expats require nannies to speak basic English. So, I thought there may be an opportunity there if these women are trained in this field. On top of that, I also thought that perhaps it might provide a good family environment for the women. One of the main concerns we have when assessing the types of marketable jobs for the women is to ensure that their work environment will not expose them to the risk of being trafficked or forced into prostitution. Jobs which require them to spend  huge amount of time in the street or male-dominated outlets are likely to present them with such threat, although not entirely so.

However, while keeping in mind that their interest and well-being are a priority, it doesn’t mean that the potential danger it might bring to others should not be considered. So, the debate was whether nanny is a suitable job for the women. Some of the comments I received were valid as well as an indication that the stigma attached to the women, regardless of whether they were forced into prostitution or not is very much present.

Most of the people I discussed with said that they would not be willing to hire these women as a nanny. The reasons were not solely based on the fact that they were sex workers but  also the psychological vulnerability of the women. Some expressed that the women may not be psychologically well enough to be entrusted with the responsibility of handling children. This is particularly a concern if they are HIV positive too. This is a valid point especially when it involves the well-being of a child. If a nanny agency were to be established for this purpose, then there must be sufficient policies and standards to ensure accountability.

There are a few who said that they would be willing to consider if the women were indeed being forced into prostitution and a strict screening process should be carried out to determine this. Then, there were some who raised the question of whether it is a legal or ethical requirement for the women to reveal their past. My thought on this was that if their past identity would become a basis for discrimination, then perhaps they are not legally bound by it.

Finally, there was one person who asked whether it is wise to limit the women to domestic jobs only because by virtue of that, we are narrowing down their options based on their education level. Perhaps we might want to encourage them to become more than just nannies, domestic helper, waitress, etc. After all we don’t really know what are the aspirations and dreams of these women. We might not expect them to be rocket scientist or doctors, but secretarial or managerial positions may be some of the options.

The truth is, judging from the cultural aspect and reality of the situation, it is not an easy task if we were to cater to each and every woman at the centre. There are presently more than 50 women being rehabilitated at the centre and we certainly would like to see the women achieve something which they can be proud of but at the same time, the more pressing issue to tackle, bearing in mind the limited resources available, is how to ensure that the women can earn some money while maintaining their dignity.

There are very few women who have seized the opportunity to hold professional jobs, mainly with AFESIP. Then, there are the majority who said that they would be happy with any jobs, as long as they get one. So, in the end, it is up to the women. If they desire to be something more and show the potential to achieve that, then the doors remain open to them.

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