“I would tell them I was a feminist. They would ask me what’s a feminist and I would say I was fighting patriarchy. They would become even more curious and ask me if it was because I had no man in my life. Or did it mean that I didn’t need men, they would ask. I would tell them that neither was the case. I wanted men on my terms. I was not against sex. I was opposed to sexual power.”
Ruchira Gupta devoted her life and career to the protection of women´s rights and to end sex trafficking. She began over thirty years ago as a journalist, writing for Indian and international newspapers about caste struggles, armed conflicts in India and women´s rights. From then on, her activism and engagement have brought to ground-breaking developments.
She worked for the UN to support countries in developing National Action Plans against human trafficking and she participated to the discussions that led to the passage of the UN Protocol to end Human Trafficking. She wrote the first ever manual teaching police officers to investigate traffickers and clients instead of their victims. She has worked with UNAIDS, WHO, UN, UNIFEM and UNICEF in Nepal, Thailand, Kosovo, New York, Washington DC and Iran.
Alongside the UN career, she has always been a determined social justice activist and feminist campaigner. In 1996 she won the Emmy Award in News and Journalism with a pioneering documentary, The Selling of Innocents, which exposes the trafficking in young women and children from the villages of Nepal to the brothels of Mumbai. The documentary allowed Gupta to build allies around India and create a coalition, which became part of a worldwide movement against trafficking and which brought to the birth of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, an Indian anti-sex-trafficking organization, founded in 2002.
Apne Aap´s mission is to fight for a world in which women are not bought and sold, and they can realize their full potential. Gupta explained that they “work to empower women in prostitution by making them aware of their rights, imparting them with vocational and income generating skills, getting their children educated and connecting them to media and political representatives to give them a voice and social visibility.” The organization is supporting more than 20000 women at risk, by increasing the choices for the weakest and marginalized women victims of the system of prostitution, and by deterring the purchase of sex through policy and social change.
There is still a long way to go. Anyhow, Gupta sees positive changes: while in the past the tendency was to hide cases of violence against women, nowadays laws have been changed, mainstream media are reporting cases of rape, the public pressure is leading to better enforcement of laws and women´s movements are getting stronger. This has been possible thanks to activists as Ruchira Gupta, which have relentlessly fought for the rights of women and girls.
By Elena Floriani, WAVE Intern
“Apne Aap.” Apne Aap, apneaap.org/.
Sharma, Anuradha. “Interview: Ruchira Gupta.” The Diplomat, The Diplomat, 1 Sept. 2016, thediplomat.com/2014/08/interview-ruchira-gupta/.
Gupta, Ruchira. “My Freedom to Choose: ‘We Need to Be Free to Live and Tell Our Stories’.” India Today, India Today, 13 Aug. 2016, www.indiatoday.in/magazine/independence-day-special/story/20160822-ruchira-gupta-feminist-journalist-feminism-apne-aap-sex-workers-the-selling-of-innocents-829391-2016-08-10.
Bain, Miranda. “Biography: Ruchira Gupta – Ending Sex Trafficking.” The Heroine Collective, 13 Oct. 2016, www.theheroinecollective.com/ruchira-gupta/.