Emily Pasnak-Lapchick is a Fellow with the End Trafficking project.
Last week I had the honor of speaking at an event called Wake Up! for Human Rights. It was organized by the high school student Amie Dukuray and the recent college graduate Tess Gardephe. These two brilliant young women were connected through a new initiative called the Future Project. This project links students from historically underserved schools with mentors to help them achieve their dreams. Amieâ€™s dreamÂ is to live inÂ a world freeÂ from injustice; a world built on equality and peace where everyoneâ€™s voice can be heard. Tess and I share this dream, and it is this dream that brought the three of us together.
At the event, each panelist spoke about their organizationâ€™s mission, goals and role in fighting for human rights. The audience heard incredible speakers from Ground Up Global, Pencils of Promise, Malaria No More, and finally myself representing the End Trafficking project at the U.S. Fund for UNICEF. I spoke with pride about UNICEFâ€™s holistic and sustainable approach to addressing systems and social norms in the realm of child protection. I shared engagement opportunities with the audience such as posting the National Human Trafficking Hotline, encouraging Senators to renew the Trafficking Victims Protection Reauthorization ActÂ , and utilizing our TeachUNICEF resources, which will be available this summer.
But perhaps the audience didnâ€™t expect what I intended to challenge them with next. When volunteers and activists ask, â€śWhat can we do to be involved?â€ť they usually get answers like write to your representative, tell your friends, sign this pledge. But what they donâ€™t typically hear is that they can do something to change their everyday actionsâ€”change the way they speak, and challenge the way that their friends act. They donâ€™t typically hear speakers asking them to question societal norms. I challenged them to ask questions like why our society glorifies the pimping culture. To ask why pimps are framed as â€ścool guysâ€ť instead of what they really areâ€”responsible forÂ supportingÂ theÂ steady supply of human beings for sale to other human beings. Fighting human rights abuses begins when we start to speak out against the objectification of women and children in our culture; when we understand the effects that our society has on a young girl as she grows up bombarded with the idea that all she is good for is what her body can offer.
These are changes that will take time. Our culture cannot transform overnight, but somethingâ€™s got to change. So I ended with this challengeâ€”to take a long, hard look in the mirror and at each other, and to begin to work together to improve the world that we are all a part of. To fight for a world where the â€śworst forms of child laborâ€ť no longer exist; where forced child marriage is ancient history and children do not work 12 hours a day in brick kilns, carpet looms, or in homes as domestic slaves. A world where freedom truly exists.
The End Trafficking project may not be a typical initiative, but we are determined to get the job done. We are determined to dig deeper into these societal issues that perpetuate the abuse of children around the world. We are determined to work towards a day when zero children are exploited and trafficked.
I am thrilled that the U.S. Fund for UNICEF and the End Trafficking project can be such an instrumental part of youth in this country working to achieve their dreams. It is moments like this when, for me, all of our hard work is affirmed.