by Christina Lowery
The other night, I had the great opportunity to attend the Vital Voices 10th Global Leadership Awards at the Kennedy Center. I was there as the guest of Intel, our amazing sponsor and a supporter of Vital Voices, an organization whose mission is to identify, invest in, support and bring visibility to extraordinary women around the world. From the beginning until the close of the program, I had my mind blown by the determination, fearlessness, big-heartedness, dedication and fire of the women who were honored.
Although an enormous security line forced me to miss Secretary of State Hillary Clinton’s opening remarks, I settled into my seat as Diane von Furstenburg was introducing the evening’s Human Rights Award. I want to share with you the story of Sunitha Krishnan, the recipient of the award.
Sunitha is a powerhouse. Based in Hyderabad, India, she co-founded Prjawala, an organization that rescues women and children from brothels and provides quality education to children of prostitutes. Her organization has rescued more than 4,600 women and children, 2000 of whom Sunitha liberated personally. These women and children were kidnapped, lured by false promises of employment, sold by their own parents or trapped by debt bondage. Most of them are HIV positive. The youngest one is three and a half years old. Let me repeat. Three and a half years old.
Prjawala operates a network of 18 schools in the state of Andhra Pradesh and leads community-based efforts that take her staff into slums, villages, schools and colleges where they identify and connect with at-risk women and children. They know prevention is the key, and Sunitha pays a high price for her work: she’s been beaten up 14 times, been the target of acid attacks and receives regular death threats.
She was impassioned and fierce when she spoke. She cited horrifying statistics and details of children sold into the sex industry where their bodies, minds and souls are destroyed. It hit me especially hard as I thought of my 5 1/2 year old son and 2 1/2 year old daughter. In fact, I feel like I can’t think about the issue of kids in the sex industry with my own in mind because its just too nauseating and horrible. I shut it out because it’s too dark, too unimaginable and evil. I really don’t want to think about it. But that can’t be the answer.
Sunitha issued a call to arms, challenging us to ask if we had done enough. Are we as individuals, families, groups, companies doing enough? There are more than 1 million children sold every year into the sex industry. Girls and boys just like my son and daughter who because of some crazy accident/blessing of birth get to spend their days running in the woods, throwing rocks in a stream, playing and going to school. Am I doing enough? Not a chance. Are you?
Find out more about Sunitha’s organization at http://www.prajwalaindia.com/.
And make sure to check out Vital Voices who, over the last 15 years, have trained over 10,000 emerging women leaders from 127 countries. These women have returned to their communities to train and mentor over 500,000 women and girls. That is the exponential power of change on which 10×10 is based.
I’ll post more about the event and some of the other honorees and participants in coming days, because their stories should be shouted from the rooftops. We should all be inspired follow their lead. To be brave. To make a change. To do something to make the world a better place. Today.