For Diksha Kataria, a junior at the University of Richmond, a monologue that she performed last spring at the Vagina Monologues, a UR tradition held in February, was more than just a series of lines recited for a two-night performance.
It was the source of inspiration for her to start an activist group on campus that fights for women’s rights across the world.
Kataria, whose monologue was based on the story of a survivor of sexual assault during the Bosnian War, said she was inspired to start her student organization, Better World for Women, after several students asked her if her performance was based on a true story.
“Something like this actually happened in my city,” Kataria said. “And it was a huge case.”
Kataria, who is from New Delhi, India, said that she wanted to start an organization to raise awareness for women’s rights after realizing that although she knew of several violations of women’s rights in her hometown, all UR students might not be familiar with issues that affect women globally.
Robin Akers, a junior at UR, said that she began working with Kataria last spring to form Better World for Women because she thought the organization would offer a new perspective to the campus community.
“I realized that we had no club on campus existing that was already dealing with these issues,” Akers said. “So I knew that I really wanted to be a part of something to help bring these issues to the forefront of the campus consciousness.”
Akers and Kataria said that this semester their organization had been working with Monti Datta, a professor of political science, to begin their first project. The group formed a partnership with Breakthrough Thailand, a grassroots anti-human trafficking organization based in the rural northeast region of Thailand.
According to the organization’s website, the mission of Breakthrough Thailand is “to strike at the roots of sexual exploitation by restoring and transforming families, education systems and economic paradigms in Thailand’s rural Isaan communities.”
Datta said that he met Benjamas Phaypromnuek, the founder of Breakthrough Thailand, through another anti-human trafficking organization while he was on sabbatical in Bangkok last year.
“I really felt a sense of trust with Ben, and an appreciation that the organization she was establishing was sincere and was meant to help girls at risk for human trafficking,” Datta said.
Thailand is recognized by the organization as a key destination for human trafficking in Southeast Asia, according to the United Nations Action for Cooperation Against Trafficking in Persons website.
In a 2016 report, the U.S. State Department estimated that there were three million to four million people in Thailand who were being forced, coerced, or defrauded into labor or sex trafficking.
In addition to poverty, corruption in the Thai law enforcement system is another factor that may contribute to the perpetuation of widespread human trafficking in Thailand, Datta said.
“People may have an incentive to look the other way,” Datta said. “For example, if you're law enforcement and you’re being paid by somebody who is trafficking human beings, you’ll have more of an incentive not to prosecute them."
Kataria said that she believed that working with grassroots organizations like Breakthrough Thailand was the best way to combat human rights issues because these organizations could measure their impact on the communities they serve.
“The reason why we’re working with grassroots organizations is because once our projects are complete, we want to be able to measure the impact,” Kataria said. “We want to be able to say ‘this is what we’ve built, and this is how many people it’s impacting.’”
Contact news writer Bri Park at firstname.lastname@example.org.