In Conversation with Ruchira Gupta: Steinem Returns to Alma Mater for a Discussion on Human Trafficking

Danielle McClogan ’14
Contributing Writer

This evening at 7:00 p.m. in John M. Greene Hall, Gloria Steinem ’56 and Ruchira Gupta will give the keynote address to introduce a two-day symposium at Smith entitled, “Trafficking Sex: Politics, Policy, Personhood.” This will mark Steinem’s second trip to Smith this year, as the famed feminist and activist graced JMG with her presence in early February in honor of the Smith Archives and in a move to promote awareness and activism within the community. This visit, however, will serve a more focused purpose. The symposium will highlight the work both women have done to combat human trafficking while simultaneously striving to improve awareness and raise concern levels.

Steinem, who has spent her life working within the feminist movement, will be bringing her expertise on multiple subjects to the table. Gupta, the founder of Apne Aap Women Worldwide, has worked for over 25 years for the rights of girls and women and focuses heavily on the eradication of sex trafficking. She has previously lobbied the United Nations regarding trafficking, and remains a prominent and integral activist within the field. Along with Steinem, she will be pushing for increased involvement and awareness regarding the second-most lucrative illegal industry in the world.

According to Greg White, the director of the Global Studies Center, the symposium has been in the works for a long time.

“It began when Paula Giddings, the editor of Meridians: Feminism, Race, Transnationalism, began to think in terms of publishing a special issue on the topic of human trafficking – and treating it in all its complexity. The Provost, Marilyn Schuster, suggested that Meridians partner with the Global Studies Center in the endeavor,” White said.

Over the last two years, a wide array of faculty and staff from different departments and programs have worked closely together to develop the programming and focus of the symposium. White explained that the organization of this week’s symposium was a collective effort, “spearheaded by Carrie Baker, Paula Giddings, Lisa Morde, Bethie Williams, Erin Kelly and Sarah LaBelle.”

The goal of the symposium is to expose Smith students to the complexities present in the conversations surrounding the worldwide illegal sex trade.

“[We] hope that people will emerge from the events with a greater understanding of the issue, of course, and its myriad of dimensions,” said White. “Human trafficking and sex trafficking is an exceedingly complicated and fraught topic, with a host of sometimes divergent normative perspectives and methodological approaches to understanding it and solving it.”

Those involved in developing the symposium especially hope that students will gain a more nuanced understanding of how the United States is situated in the global context of human trafficking issues.

The symposium is presented by the Global Studies Center in conjunction with Meridians; the Program for the Study of Woman and Gender; the Project for Women and Social Change; the Afro-American Studies Department; and the Office of the Provost.


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