Dr. Shruti Kapoor is a renowned economist, women’s rights activist and social entrepreneur from India. She is the founder of Sayfty, an initiative that aims to educate and empower young women and girls against all forms of violence.
Recently I had the privilege to interview Dr. Shruti Kapoor who currently resides in USA. She is a morale booster for women and girls who are being victimized on the basis of gender inequality and violence. She established an NGO called The Sayfty which is recognized internationally and is a forerunner in the upliftment of the status of women and girls in the society.
What motivated you to start the Sayfty NGO?
I was motivated to start an organization right after the Nirbhaya incident (December 2012). I wanted to attribute something about the safety of women. After going out of India, in the 70’s and 80’s there were not much conversation about women’s safety. Most of the time we tell our girls to ignore if somebody harasses them or if they experience any sort of sexual violence and are asked to stay quiet about it because it is a shame to the girl and her family. So I wanted to change that aspect and I wanted women and girls to feel more confident about safety, speak out against violent experiences, to report it and tell the Indian community to remove the shame around the topic of sexual violence. This is the reason I started working in this area and that’s how Sayfty is formed.
What is the motto of Sayfty?
Our motto is to educate and empower women against gender based violence.
You studied in India as well as in the US. Whose style of teaching did you like the most?
I definitely enjoyed the US style of teaching more, especially after high school because there was more stress on understanding concepts and applying those concepts. In India when I went to college, the main crux was about learning all the information and later using that information in the exams, getting good marks was more important. Whether or not you understood the concept is not important and most teachers often don’t pay attention or care. It’s all about notes, learning the notes and later using them in the exams. (bolte hai na ratta lagake exam dena – as they say mug up everything and give the exam) . That I did not enjoy much. Everyone gave importance to marks, how much you scored and how well you did. In the US it’s all about how you performed overall and not only studying. they give you more opportunities to excel.
Tell our readers about Sayfty chat, zero tolerance and voice of the weak programs.
So Sayfty chat is our weekly prep chat. Every week we invite our guest organization and guest experts to come and speak at the chat for one hour (every Monday) from 8:30 PM to 9:30 PM (IST) and we along with the guest choose one topic which is related to women’s safety in general. For example, we talked about cyber safety. There was an expert from Canada who discussed about cyber safety and answered 5 questions. Our global community on twitter follows and addresses these questions. For example, how do we keep our stuff safe online? Or what are the things we do online? If you being harassed online then what do you do? How to reach out for help? We pick a topic and discuss it in the Sayfty chat. Every week, we pick one person from any country in the world to be our voice of the week. We use twitter as the platform to raise awareness about women’s safety, gender based violence and gender equality. For example if you be our voice of the week you can use our twitter platform and raise awareness and talk about these issues. Zero tolerance is the campaign that we started in collaboration with The Red Elephant and our aim was to pick one topic each month and talk about it. For example: what is marital rape and how do you define it, what are the Indian laws associated with marital rape and how do you know if you are experiencing this problem and what should you do. Let’s say you are a victim of marital rape and what do you do next? For an entire year every month we discussed one specific topic related to gender based violence in India. We talked about the concept, the laws, how to identify it and what you should do if you are experiencing it.
When you were nominated by the White House as a change maker for the United States for Women summit 2016, what were your feelings?
It was obviously very prestigious that I was nominated as a change maker for all the work we have been doing and I was very excited. All the nominated change makers attended the conference in Washington DC where we had President Obama, Michelle Obama, people like Oprah and Vinci who came and motivated us. It was definitely a moment to celebrate and we were excited and joyous about the work and also inspiring because we met so many other women who are doing such good work and also connect with them which inspired us to do more better work.
Do you think media can act as a tool for gender equality?
I very strongly believe that media acts as a tool for gender equality. In today’s world media reaches out to millions of people. For example in India, Bollywood reaches out to millions of people. It is a powerful tool to spread the right message. In our Indian movies, we can talk about justification of women and girls by producing more movies like Dangal which are topics of women empowerment. I think the message through media to larger audiences will be great and impactful. Media whether it is TV, radio, movies or social media should be used to advocate gender equality. Media is very powerful and should definitely be used as a tool for gender equality.
You worked for World Bank. Can you share your experience with our reader’s?
I moved to the US in 2000 to pursue my Masters in Economics and when I graduated in 2002, I got a job as a consultant in the World Bank. It was my first job experience right after college and was a truly remarkable experience because I got to work on various projects and started working on development of Central Asia and human development sector at the World Bank. As a graduate, it was a great learning experience for me as I learned to work on projects like poverty, shelter and nutrition. I contributed to projects like rural electrification, its impact on education and shelter. People at the World Bank are very inspiring and motivated to me pursue to Ph.D in Economics. It was one of my dream jobs as an economist and working at the World Bank is really a dream come true at that time.
What are your future plans on uplifting the status of women?
I am a very strong gender equality activist and I am very passionate about women empowerment and safety. In the near future this is something I will be advocating using my voice and platform to speak out against gender based violence and ensure that we as citizens in our day to day life should contribute a bit for gender equality. A lot of people ask me what is that I can do, and I always tell them to start with where you are and what you have. Like today you can provide your boys and girls in terms of education and opportunities. In the next 2 years I will be advocating more and more on gender equality and women’s safety. People should be reminded that girls are equally important and equally capable as boys.
What is your message to youth?
Youth must actively engage and get involved in every sustainable goal and whatever you are passionate about like climate change, gender equality. Youth today has the power of social media. They are creative, intelligent and smart. Youth should use their voice and platform to make a difference and create an impact in whatever they are passionate about through the social media.