According to a Chinese proverb, women hold up half the sky. Unfortunately, women throughout the world are not treated as such: systemic oppression in the form of sex slavery, rape and maternal mortality affects millions of women across the globe. With a screening of parts of the documentary “Half the Sky: Turning Oppression into Opportunity for Women Worldwide,” UConn Coalition Against Human Trafficking hoped to raise awareness of sex trafficking Monday night.
The group showed two segments of the film to students in the Women’s Center. One focused on the sex trafficking of very young girls in Cambodia while the other portrayed the intergenerational prostitution that takes place in some areas of India. Though the documentary exposed some tough issues, it also showed how local movements are working to better conditions for girls and women.
In Cambodia, activist Somaly Mam rescued girls from brothels and brought them to centers within her foundation to rehabilitate and educate them. Viewers heard these girls tell their own stories, many of which were hard to hear. Girls recounted being beaten by brothel owners for refusing to see customers and being rejected by their parents after escaping from brothels. Mam’s foundation aims to give these girls a voice and let them know that they are survivors, not just victims.
Similarly, activist Urmi Basu assisted sex workers and their daughters in a red light district in Kolkata. In this case, girls grew up seeing their mothers involved in sex work and believed that this was their future too. Through her charity New Light, Basu hopes to educate daughters of sex workers so that they can lead a different life than they are told they must.
“Half the Sky” emphasized the need for the world to see opportunity in its girls and women. By nurturing females and valuing their contributions to society, the filmmakers argued, girls can see a bright future for themselves and gain economic mobility.
“I thought it was really interesting to see it through a different lens,” Katie Savo, an eighth-semester English major, said. “We’re in suburban Connecticut, so we don’t really get to see this other side. It’s very easy to read about these things but to actually have to see it and confront it, it’s really hard, but it was really powerful to watch.”
After the documentary, UConn Coalition Against Human Trafficking (CAHT) introduced themselves and hosted a talk-back session. CAHT officially changed the name of their organization Monday. The group was formerly known as the UConn chapter of the larger nonprofit Love 146, but President Qasim Malik, Vice President Sara Mohamedzein and Secretary Belle Stasko said that their members had different goals than Love 146. In addition to CAHT’s desire to advocate for an end to all forms of human trafficking (not just sex trafficking), the club wanted to focus on educating people about the issue and raising awareness.
Malik, Mohamedzein and Stasko asked a variety of questions to encourage discussion of the documentary. Questions led the audience to think about why human trafficking might affect already marginalized groups and if decriminalization of sex work might help to end sex trafficking.
Audience members had strong reactions to the documentary. Many said that it was sad to see young girls in such terrible situations, and others said that such oppression was systemic and needed to be broken down over time.
“I thought it was very eye-opening, and I think that’s definitely something that needs to be talked about more in schools here because realistically, we don’t necessarily see it as a problem here,” Shanna Arneth, an eighth-semester animal science major, said.
Several students mentioned a specific quote from the documentary as especially saddening. In one scene of the documentary, Mam tells the story of a young girl who contracted HIV/AIDS from a client. Mam says that the young girl asked her to tell her story to those she speaks to and let people know that one man’s few minutes of sexual pleasure with her ultimately killed her with the virus he transmitted to her.
“That, that was the part that broke my heart the most,” Savo said. “I didn’t even see the girl, but to be like seven years old and to recognize that and to be able to make those thoughts — broke my heart.”
CAHT’s message certainly stuck with students Monday night, and the organization hopes to draw more people to their cause over the course of the semester. Interested students can join CAHT during their next meeting on Monday, March 30 from 6 p.m. to 7 p.m. in Monteith 227. In the meantime students can visit them on Instagram @uconncaht.
Stephanie Santillo is a senior staff writer for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at email@example.com.