UNA New York Honors Women Battling Trafficking
at 2011 Spring Luncheon
Barbara Crossette | from The Interdependent | 5 May 2011
They are worlds apart — a determined Indian woman working in some of the world's seamiest and most dangerous slums, and members of The Junior League across the United States — but their goals are the same: to end human trafficking and in particular the sexual exploitation of women and children.
On May 11, the United Nations Association's New York chapter will honor Ruchira Gupta, the founder and president of Apne Aap — "self help" in Hindi — for nearly two decades of aiding and fighting for the rights of South Asian women and girls lured or sold into prostitution. Gupta, who in 1994 encountered on trek in Nepal the extent of sex trafficking of poor women from Nepali villages to Indian brothels, single-handedly began a campaign to publicize the trade, which often had criminal or political protectors. She plunged into the slums of Mumbai and other Indian cities where prostitutes lived to assist them in form self-help groups and giving their children a chance to live better lives than their virtually enslaved mothers.
Over the years, as Gupta's work achieved international recognition, including a 2009 Clinton Global Citizen award and the British House of Lords Abolitionist award a year earlier. In 1997, she won an Emmy for her documentary, The Selling of Innocents, made with a Canadian Broadcasting Corporation team. Apne Aap, which publishes a newspaper by and for prostitutes, Red Light Dispatch, has aided more than 10,000 women and girls in brothels, placing more than 800 children in schools and supporting small business cooperatives formed by women.
The Junior League, which has grown from a small organization founded in New York in 1901 known for many years as a volunteer charity for affluent, well bred young ladies, has become through its public affairs committees in the U.S., Canada, Mexico and the United Kingdom a force for advocacy on behalf of women and children in health, education and the environment. There are now 155,000 women in 292 Junior Leagues.
Among the American efforts on behalf of people trafficked in and into the U.S. is the work of The Junior League of New Jersey, which has been holding conferences on the issue in the state, which they found to be port of entry for human traffickers. The state leagues have proposed legislation and provided hotlines and other services to vulnerable women and children.
In Atlanta, The Junior League sponsored a one-hour public television production, How to Stop the Candy Shop, which launched a citywide campaign against the sexual exploitation of children. The league has also created billboards, held workshops for adolescent girls and conducted community training and awareness programs. In Michigan, the State Council of Junior Leagues campaigned for a package of five anti-trafficking bills being considered by the state legislature. All were adopted and signed by the governor at the end of 2010. Junior Leagues in New York campaigned for legislation that passed in 2007 and successfully advocated for the opening of state-supported shelters for victims of trafficking and domestic violence. Junior Leagues in Los Angeles, New Orleans, Tampa and Owensboro, Kentucky, have also taken action.
Delly Beekman, president of the Association of Junior Leagues International, will accept the award at the lunch on May 11. Keynote speaker at the ceremony will be Vishakha Desai, the president and CEO of the Asia Society. The lunch will be held in the UN delegates' dining room and is open to the public, though seating is limited.