Sakshi : Luminary of Gender Equality

When Girl Scouts of America announced it’s 2018 Gold Award Winners - a reward reserved for girls who create sustainable solutions for the problems our world is facing, no one was surprised Sakshi Satpathy was one of the winners. I had the pleasure of interviewing Sakshi Satpathy, a 16-year-old from Bangalore, India. She’s a senior in high school in Palo Alto, she’s a girl scout, a model UN student, and she founded project GREET (Girl Rights: Engage, Empower, Train). GREET is an organization fighting for girls rights, especially issues like human trafficking and child marriage, which disproportionately affect girls. GREET fights for gender equality through training, film screenings, and by preparing and empowering young women. I think what drew me to Sakshi was the compassion and dedication. Although I learned some of those skills while in Girl Scouts myself, I lacked the outside knowledge and initiative to do something with it. This is where Sakshi and I differ. Her website and films are informative, clear, and beautifully put together. I know it took a lot of hard work, especially when the subject can be bleak. Sakshi Satpathy's work earned her the position of a Student Delegate at the United Nations-Commission on the Status of Women 62nd session 2018. Sakshi is leading girls everywhere by showing that no matter where they’re from, how old they are, or how bad things may seem, we can make a difference, which is why she makes me proud to be a girl scout.

Sakshi at the United Nations-Commission on the Status of Women

Her Campus: What is your favorite part of being a girl?

Sakshi Satpathy: We are one big sisterhood - it is great to have a strong community to support each other through bad and good times.

HC: What about a Girl Scout?

S: I love how being a Girl Scout has provided me so many opportunities to challenge myself across various dimensions--be it in the fields of business, social justice, STEM, high adventure sports, camping or cookie selling-- while providing a safety net for failure with a network of accomplished, supportive leaders in every sphere of life.

HC: How do you think politicians can help victims of sex trafficking?

S: With respect to sex trafficking, there is often an (over) emphasis on the seller of sex. When debates about sex trafficking arise, they are often about the legalization of sex work. But that shouldn’t be the main focus. Usually, the seller of sex is disproportionately punished by the legal system compared to the buyer, even though it is the collective demand of buyers that drives sex trafficking. Hence, politicians can help by formulating regulations which hold both sides equally accountable, collaborating with social workers and non-profit organizations and allocating budget to institutionalize prevention mechanisms and also provide all assistance for victims to regain financial independence expeditiously by extending vocational sponsored training and rehabilitation programs.

Sakshi Satpathy with Boko Haram survivors, Ya Kaka Huawa, and their translator.

HC: How can everyday people help victims of sex trafficking?

S: One of the hardest jobs is to be able to identify a victim of sex trafficking because of reluctance to self-report. Understanding the signs of sex trafficking, knowing how and where to report the same are the first steps that people can equip themselves with. They can also volunteer with their expertise or monetary donations with organizations that work to rehabilitate survivors.

HC: What introduced you to the problem of child marriages and sex trafficking?

S: I have always been passionate about women's rights. I would read news reports about trafficking and child marriage, and they always left me with a bad feeling. I was really surprised to learn how pervasive these issues are while working with local chapters of Amnesty International and Girls Learn International in my freshman year. I had initially joined these groups to learn more about what feminism meant and women’s issues around the world. With every interaction, I ended up learning a lot about gender-based violence--particularly child marriages and sex trafficking, which disproportionately hurt women and girls. I wanted to contribute to the cause and make a difference in my own little way by sharing what I learnt. One step has led to another, and my project came as a result.

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HC: This is a much larger problem in America than people realize - can you tell me a little bit about how this is not only a problem in third world countries?

S: One can easily look up the statistics of child marriage and human trafficking in the US and other countries. Not only are these surprising, but do not represent the whole picture. Victims of human trafficking and child marriage seldom self-report incidences to authorities. Additionally, people often lack the understanding of these issues (not just the subconscious misconceptions we accept) and expertise to sense signs of these malpractices and collect relevant information to report key details (who, what, when, where) to hotlines. In short, legal experts and social workers strongly believe that the data reported to call centers of firms like Polaris (National Human Trafficking Hotline) are not representative of the extent of the problem. Therefore people generally have the notion that such issues do not exist in America or do not need any kind of focus.

HC: Tell me about your choice to use filmmaking to get this story into the world rather than other forms of art?

S:  I was very fortunate to get introductions to passionate experts on topics of human trafficking and child marriage. The only way to capture the purpose of their unrelenting mission was to see and hear them speak. No other form would have done justice to the relevant information they presented on topics from the root causes of these practices, common misconceptions, statistics and how individuals can help. I had to learn ways and means to interview them, film them, edit and produce the films in ways that would retain both the essence and the passion.

 

Sakshi Satpathy, focusing on her camera.

HC: What do you think is the next step for you / GREET?

S: I am happy to note that project GREET has been successful in generating further awareness about these issues. There is so much more to do. Currently three organizations are using my curriculum “Guidelines to Rehabilitate Young Trafficked Girls” to set up vocational training programs for at-risk and trafficked girls. I would love to see more organizations utilizing my curriculum in the future. Though often the most obvious way to stop trafficking or child marriage seems to be reporting cases, there are lot more hands needed on deck. Helping survivors economically sustain themselves is really one of the most effective ways to ensure that those previously trafficked do not go back to their traffickers to be exploited for sex and/or labor. Additionally, I hope that my project inspires others not only to use my project artifacts to increase awareness of child marriage and trafficking but inspires further personalized action in viewers’ local communities.

HC: If you could tell every girl in the world one thing - what would it be?

S: You are valuable. That’s a no-brainer. Make sure to put that value to use--to push yourself hard and enjoy what the world has to offer by trying out new things. Brush aside any discrimination along the way and achieve your true potential.

HC: Is there anything you would like to add?

S: Thank you for giving me this opportunity to talk to you. I hope this helps other girls take action on causes that they are passionate about and make a difference.