16 March 2015

International Women's Day and Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs

Well, International Women’s Day 2015 has come and gone. I wanted to write a post to mark the occasion, but obviously it did not happen. I had eye surgery this past week and the preparation for it, and a more painful than normal recovery, sidelined my good intentions. Happily, we at Bijlmer Bridge2Hope were able to attend two events on the Friday preceding International Women’s Day.  The conferences, The Power of Entrepreneurial Women Worldwide and Women’s Business Initiative International (WBII) were informative and motivating. We enjoyed the speakers (including our very own Madeline van der Steege), connected with other women, and spoke to as many people as possible about the Bijlmer Bridge2Hope project.

So, I hope you are wondering what International Woman’s Day has to do with Maslow?  Not much at first glance, but they are connected. Most people are familiar with Maslow’s hierarchy of needs towards self-actualization. Psychologist Abraham Maslow postulated his theory of human motivation in 1943. His well-known premise outlines the fundamental levels of needs that people have. Maslow sees each level as a type of step, with the needs particular to each level being fulfilled before one can move up to next. There are five levels in his theory, ending with self-actualization. It is almost always shown as a pyramid that looks like this:

Here is the extremely simplified crash course on Maslow's hierarchy of needs. Maslow believed that four fundamental needs must be met before a person can begin to focus on the subsequent steps towards self actualization. He designated the first level of needs, physiological. These needs consist of very basic items such as air, water, food, clothing and shelter -- needs that all have just in order to survive. After these are met, one can move to the next level, which is termed safety. On this level a person is able to begin thinking about what they need to be personally and financially safe, and take the actions required for their individualized security. The third level of human need, as seen by Maslow, is love and belonging. This acceptance among social, peer and family groups is needed to move towards the fourth level, esteem. All humans have the need to respect themselves and others. Esteem includes a personal sense of dignity and value, as well as a need for respect from others. Once the four fundamental needs (physiological, safety, love and belonging, esteem) are met, then one is able to work on self-actualization. Self-actualization is unique for each person and is the realization of his or her full potential. This potential may be expressed in diverse ways. 

It is safe to say that most of us do not know many people who are on the bottom levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Most individuals we encounter in our day-to-day lives have their basic needs met. They have more food than they need, they have a large, safe shelter to live in, and they have a closet, full of clothing ,which is often added to when they decide that they need something new. Most of us are more fortunate than we realize – some of us might even say that we have reached the level of self-actualization. Certainly the majority of us are not concerned with our basic psychological needs and safety being met.

But there are women who are at the bottom level, where their fundamental needs are not even being fulfilled. Imagine being in a position where you would sacrifice your safety to have the basics such as food, drink and shelter. Our participants have symptoms of post traumatic stress disorder after years of being trafficked. They have been exploited, raped, tortured, stripped of their dignity and had their basic needs withheld from them for years. Fortunately, now that they are free from their traffickers, our participants are able to start making their way up to the next level. At Bijlmer Bridge2Hope we are equipping them with the skills needed to succeed and reach their own individual potential. Food, drinks and necessities are provided. We meet several times a week in a safe environment. There is love, acceptance and belonging for each of them in the group, and the vocational and language skills they are learning weekly help to build their self-esteem. It is encouraging to see their increased self-confidence, witness their personal victories, and see their beautiful smiles as they begin to make changes.

So yes, International Women’s Day has come and gone, but we do not need a specific day to remember the needs of women who are at the bottom of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. The theme of International Woman’s Day 2015 was “Make It Happen”. Today, think of what you can do to make it happen for women who are not as fortunate as you. As women, we have come a long way towards equality, but some females still have yet to reach the next basic level. Let’s give a hand to these women who need support, help to provide them the skills to go to the next level, help them become the best that they can be. Every woman deserves the opportunities and tools required to transform.

"The story of women's struggle for equality belongs to no single feminist nor to any one organization but to the collective efforts of all who care about human rights" Gloria Steinem

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