Ruchira Gupta believes that the world needs to work ground-up, if a verifiable change is to be seen in the condition of the weakest girl on the planet – a ka a, the ‘last girl’.
Gupta has worked for the betterment of women and girls for over 25 years as an activist, sex trafficking abolitionist and journalist. Her organization, Apne Aap Women Worldwide was established in 2002 to advocate for women’s rights and the eradication of sex trafficking and has worked with thousands of Indian women and girls trapped in or at risk of prostitution.
“On one hand, I want to build empathy and on the other I want to build courage,” she says, of the ways in which her organization works for the betterment of women. They offer a self-empowerment model were women’s groups meet across the country at Apne Aap community centers that are created to be safe spaces where they can get together, access education, improve their livelihood options and receive legal rights training. Currently, Apne Aap’s work reaches more than 21,000 women and girls.
For her journalism and activism, Gupta has won numerous awards. In 2007, she won the Abolitionist Award by the House of Lords in the UK Parliament. Her documentary ‘The Selling of Innocents’ on sex trafficking in Nepal and India, won an Emmy Award in 1996. She served in the Planning Commission of the Government of India in 2011, and was awarded the Clinton Global Citizen Award for Commitment to Leadership in Civil Society by the Clinton Foundation, established by Bill Clinton.
For her next project, Gupta is raising support for a call to action called ‘No More Cages’.
“My own journey as an activist began seeing children in camps in the brothels in Mumbai, I campaigned and worked hard against it,” she says. “It’s ironical that I live in NY now and see that there are children in cages at the US Mexico border”.Gupta feels that the story of how she helped to build a movement globally can aid younger people in America to “tackle the cages here.”
This upcoming campaign will be run in tandem with a global campaign called the ‘Last Girl Campaign’, planned to remind the United Nations and world leaders taking budget decisions every day, of the most vulnerable girl’s basic needs.
The concept of the last girl is based on an idea Gupta derived out of reading Gandhi, B R Ambedkar and John Ruskin. Ruskin was an artist and art historian who wrote a book called ‘Unto This Last’ that inspired Mahatma Gandhi to develop an idea about uplifting the last. “I weaved it into something called the Last Girl,” says Gupta. “The weakest person I know is a 13-year-old in a brothel who needs to be uplifted.”
The last girl’s need for adequate food, proper clothing, housing and protection are cut off, she argues, sexual violence is one of the most urgent global epidemics in the world today, and to challenge that is to see the basic needs of the last girl as a human right.
“Our campaign is aimed at the Sustainable Development Goals of the UN – Goal 5, 16 and 18 – to be precise,” she says. The budgets of individual counties too are being slashed for the last girl, followed by impunity for those that exploit them.
“In India, there is impunity for rapes, if people belong to a dominant religion or caste. Similarly, there is impunity in the US if the perpetrators belong to a dominant race,” says Gupta.
The Last Girl gala will be held on October 11 on the International Day of the Girl Child. “We give awards to people who stand for the last girl and to the last girl herself,” says Gupta. This year, Apne Aap is giving the award to a trafficking survivor from Indonesia and to actors Rosanna Arquette of Pulp Fiction fame, Nandana Sen and politician Pramila Jayapal.