Interview by Megan Foo
Avantika Krishna is a junior at Trinity University in San Antonio, Texas, where she is studying Business Administration, Political Science, and Human Communication. An advocate for gender equality and youth engagement in political initiatives, Avantika leads numerous awareness-raising campaigns and non-profit fundraisers on and off her university’s campus. She is the Co-Founder and Co-Director of CODE T.E.A.L, an sexual assault awareness, prevention, and advocacy initiative at Trinity that fosters campus dialogue about the prevalence and relevance of sexual assault on campus. She is also the founder of Trinity’s Mental Health Week, another awareness program designed to encourage discussion and reduce stigma around mental health issues. Additionally, Avantika is the Director of the Campaign for the Presidential Youth Council, a nation-wide campaign advocating for youth representation at the federal government level,where she oversees the executive leadership team.
Women LEAD: Why are women’s leadership, gender equality, and youth engagement in civics and politics important to you?
The greatest disservice we can do for the health and strength of our communities is to ignore the contributions and potential of individuals on the basis of purely external factors such as gender, skin color, and age. Innovation, creation, and entrepreneurship are not abilities or skills limited only to a select few, and diversity of opinion is necessary for a functioning and productive society. The one way we can ensure this change is to help those typically marginalized or underrepresented groups reach positions of power and change the status quo that power or worth only belongs to a select group of individuals.
Secondly, youth engagement matters to me in particular because the decisions made by bureaucrats in Washington and by our local politicians, here and around the world, have lasting implications on everyone’s daily lives. This is something the young fail to realize. It’s okay to dislike politics and politicians as long as you pay attention to the news and speak out and advocate for change on problems you see within your community. It is not only a responsibility but also an immense privilege in a free society to vote, express your opinion, and fight for your beliefs free of persecution.
The youth is the future – there is no one who needs to care about the state of the world more than you or me.
Women LEAD: You are Co-Founder and Co-Director of CODE T.E.A.L (Talk, Educate, Advocate, Listen), a sexual assault awareness, prevention, and advocacy initiative. Can you tell us about this campaign?
CODE T.E.A.L. was a weeklong campaign designed to address the very common problem of sexual assault on college campuses. CODE T.E.A.L. was inspired by a very similar initiative at DePauw University a few years ago. “T.E.A.L.” explicates the goals of our program: reduce the number of sexual assaults on campus by facilitating dialogue and education among the campus community and increasing advocacy for and support of survivors of sexual assault. Our week–long awareness campaign also featured three key events: a keynote address from an award-winning speaker on sexual violence prevention and safe dating, a women’s self-defense workshop in partnership with a campus sorority, and a memorial for sexual assault survivors and victims. Throughout this complicated process, those of us involved with the project developed a strong sense of what worked on our campus and how we can do better in future years. I hope to see this campaign continued on our campus (and on others!) since education and introspection on our behaviors are the only ways we can truly address the widespread epidemic of sexual assault on college campuses and beyond.
Women LEAD: What would you say are the biggest challenges to ending gender-based violence?
Long-held cultural beliefs about women, the role of women in the continuation of these practices, and the lack of education are the biggest challenges to ending violence against women. For instance, Female Genital Mutilation and honor killings are typically justified as means of protecting a family’s honor and position within a certain society. Moreover, women often have little to no recourse for the abuses they face since the ones to whom they would report these crimes, such as the police, either blame the victims or excuse the perpetrators. The role of older women in continuing these practices, especially when it comes to forced prostitution, human trafficking, Female Genital Mutilation and slut-shaming, helps justify these practices as necessary and gives men the cover they need. I strongly believe that education is the most viable means of addressing the systemic causes of violence against women. When women learn of the resources available to them to fight against abuse and are empowered to use them, when village elders decry the practice of Female Genital Mutilation, and when women band together to support one another instead of judging others based on clothing choices, our communities will be much stronger for it.
Women LEAD: You are also the Director for the Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council, which is advocating for bi-partisan youth representation at the federal government level. Can you tell us about the Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council, and what harnessing the power of youth means to you?
The Campaign for a Presidential Youth Council advocates for youth of all backgrounds and political leanings to have an input in the policy-making decisions occurring at the Federal level. We currently have a resolution (H.J. 68) introduced in Congress for which we are trying to build up support through a variety of mediums. The millennial generation, contrary to its typical media portrayal, seeks involvement in community affairs and service. Voter participation rates among youth are low partly because our generation does not believe our votes or voices matter. We comprise the largest voting bloc in elections yet our own politicians do not take us seriously. These outdated attitudes are what the campaign seeks to change. We know that the opinions and creative perspectives offered by our generation are not only valuable but are also necessary to break through the current political gridlock in Washington. The power of youth is seen everyday, from individuals who address homelessness in unique ways in their communities to those who create new forums for discussion and expression through the arts. Millennials want to be taken seriously — we just need a platform to prove it.
Women LEAD: Could you describe one woman who has inspired and encouraged you in your life?
My mother, of course. My mom was a first-generation immigrant who came to America with a medical degree in one hand and not much else. She, along with my father, really struggled for a very long time to “make it” in America while also having to raise me. As was the case with many other immigrants, money was very tight and opportunities were rare. Even after establishing a stable life, my mom still made many personal sacrifices to provide the best education and life for my brother and I. She helped teach me the value of hard work and persistence when things fail to go as planned. There’s always another way out – you just have to be brave and bold and take the necessary risks to find it.
Women LEAD: What needs to change to increase interest and participation in politics from this generation of women?
It’s easy for girls and women to be discouraged, especially with today’s media. Through the images they see and the stories heard and shared, women and girls are told they have to look and live a certain way in order for anyone to listen to them or gain professional success. It’s hard for girls to envision themselves in largely male-dominated fields like computer science and politics when they often do not hear about or see female role models represented. Given the woefully ignorant comments made by male politicians about the causes of rape or the massive congressional fight to reauthorize the Violence Against Women Act, it’s no surprise women and girls are deeply disheartened and choose to eschew politics instead of engaging with the problem. Politics is still a man’s world. But the only way to change these deeply misguided attitudes and change the situation for women in our country is to have women participate in politics.
For starters, when discussing candidates for a certain electoral race, the media needs to focus on the qualifications and positions of female candidates and not on the candidate’s gender, outfit choice, and number of children (or lack thereof). Secondly, as we’ve seen in the past few election cycles, the way women vote has decisive impacts on election results. As politicians are quickly realizing, failing to accommodate the interest of women (and, in turn, their children) is a serious liability. However, the ultimate solution to decreasing political marginalization of women must come from women themselves; the glass ceiling will not be removed by men, but it can be broken through, and women can use their power as half of the population to facilitate that breakthrough.