Step by step to a better future: soap as a source for - and byproduct of - empowerment

Interview with Esther Pot of The Beautiful Unseen, nominated for De Kartini Prize - The Hague Emancipation Prize.

On the celebration of International Women's Day on March 8 and the Hague Women's Days taking place between March 4 and 10, Just Peace spoke with Esther Pot. Esther Pot is a social entrepreneur and the founder of The Beautiful Unseen, one of the three nominees for The Kartini Prize. The Kartini Prize was first established in 2007 and is being awarded again this year as part of The Hague Women's Day program, The Hague's celebration of International Women's Day. The mission of The Beautiful Unseen is to give women in vulnerable positions a "helping hand." They primarily help women who have stepped out of prostitution in The Hague and/or victims of human trafficking take steps toward a better future.

From Idea to Practice

In her pursuit of positive and meaningful change, Esther Pot, founder of The Beautiful Unseen, went into dialogue with several organizations in The Hague in 2021. From previous policy experiences, she noticed a distance between herself and the target audience she wanted to reach. This insight motivated Esther to focus on strengthening the connection between so-called decision makers and the target audience. For her, it was essential to ‘level’ with people who need support. In this way, she gained insight into the vulnerability and needs of victims of human trafficking and women who had left The Hague's prostitution.

Esther, herself from The Hague, realized during the corona pandemic, when she could not leave the city, that impact does not always have to be large-scale. After all, "you can bear fruit wherever you are." "I didn't want to get in anyone's way, but I was just eager to build upon what is already happening and supplement what is needed." She discovered that The Hague already offers many resources, such as housing, psychological support, full-time jobs and broader social work for the women who make up this target group. "But precisely those first steps toward work, are still insufficient." This is precisely what makes The Beautiful Unseen's initiative so impactful; strengthening and making the help already offered more accessible.

Direct contact and two-way communication with women belonging to this target group remain central to the mission and success of The Beautiful Unseen. Ultimately, it is about "impacting women" and facilitating their personal development.

It may seen something very small but it precisely those baby steps of getting a certificate, making a new or coming to a location independently.

Facilitating to the Next Step

Esther acknowledges that what these women need most is "a helping hand." She emphasizes that women who have stepped out of prostitution in The Hague and victims of human trafficking have faced and continue to face "a lot of challenges." One of the most prominent of these is loneliness. This is where the work of The Beautiful Unseen plays an important role. It is especially difficult for women from vulnerable backgrounds because their pre-existing situation presents constant challenges. Therefore, the "baby steps," even if they seem small, can be life-changing.

This support comes to women in the form of soap workshops and trainings. Through these workshops, The Beautiful Unseen provides a safe space or launchpad where these vulnerable women can safely "learn, develop and take a step toward work." First, the women attend a 6-week basic soap making course. Which includes a soap workshop, a tea break, often empowerment training and then soap making. While "the soap is just a byproduct," making "something beautiful ... that you are proud of, which is then sold" can also be very empowering. Esther finds that this helps tremendously with improving women's self-esteem.

In addition, it is sometimes difficult for these women to "find their way to the right help agency." On top of their existing loneliness, the women that The Beautiful Unseen help sometimes do not speak the Dutch language well enough and this can accentuate their loneliness even more.

The smallest things make the greatest impact

Success, of course, is difficult to define and looks slightly different for everyone. Esther also emphasizes that the broader system of organizations together ensures the success of these women: "we are just one piece of the puzzle." So it is an ecosystem of support that ensures the effectiveness of our social safety net.

Nevertheless, The Beautiful Unseen's support helps women get back to work in regular jobs or find housing. "To take all those steps, sometimes you do need someone to encourage you," she says. So it's not just about the practical skills, but also invaluable to have someone in your corner.

Learning from Women's Experiences

Esther acknowledges that she has learned a lot from the women themselves. She stresses who they have taught her the importance of thinking smaller and really listening to what the women need. Levelling with the women and responding to their needs is crucial. Esther appreciates the streetwise mentality of the women, who often have valuable insights and tricks that enrich her own perspective. Learning from the women themselves is an ongoing process, and Esther cherishes the unique contributions each woman brings.

Emancipation For Esther

"Emancipation has a lot to do with self-confidence and confidence," Esther says. She believes strongly in helping to restore damaged self-confidence in women who have been through a lot. "Knowing who you are and what you are worth and daring to step out of that is essential." For Esther, it's not just about psychological support, but also skills development. She emphasizes the power of believing in yourself, combined with the skills to make that belief a reality.

Esther sees the nomination for the Kartini Prize and the attention around the Hague Women's Days as valuable tools to raise awareness. "I find that many people have no idea of the challenges faced by people from vulnerable backgrounds," she says. The additional publicity generated by the nomination provides an opportunity to make more people aware of these issues and the need for support.

Emancipation has a lot to do with self-confidence and confidence.

For Esther, The Hague is unique as a city of peace and justice. She emphasizes the importance of equal rights and the opportunity for people to make their own choices in peace. This is invaluable for the women she works with, who often have not had the opportunity to realize their own dreams. Esther sees The Hague as a city that can help raise awareness and equality.

Future plans

Regarding future plans, Esther wants to empower more women through their programs. The goal is to empower women to make independent choices and live freer lives. In addition, The Beautiful Unseen is working on developing a new soap and to grow in different areas.

Would you like to support The Beautiful Unseen? Buy a soap or donate through the online store. Soaps are now also physically available at the concept store Voorlopig Den Haag in Noordeinde! Follow The Beautiful Unseen on Instagram @the.beautiful.unseen. For more information, visit their website.

Esther Pot at the Kartini prize award ceremony with Humanity Hub Director Jill Wilkinson (far right).