Today is the last day of Women’s History Month, and I couldn’t let it go just like that. I had to write here, about a woman who is making history. I intend to do this every year now. But who better to begin with than Kirthi Jayakumar?
What would you do if you get 16 messages and 31 calls on a single day from a friend living abroad? What if this friend had an abusive husband and wants you to help?
Most of us would be shaken by this. We would feel guilty about not being able to help. So did Kirthi Jayakumar. However, she didn’t let this guilt paralyze her. She used it as a driving force to develop Saahas, an app and chatbot that comprises a directory of over 40,000 organizations in 196 countries that offer medical, legal, consular and other resources for victims of gender based violence, so that no other woman would have to feel helpless and alone. She learnt coding all by herself, and even personally verified each of the organizations listed, to make Saahas what it is.
Saahas is not Kirthi’s only brainchild (or should we call it soulchild, because it takes much more than a brain to do something like this!)
She was so profoundly impacted by the Nirbhaya gang rape, that it inspired her to build The Red Elephant Foundation in 2013. “On December 17, 2012, I was at the US Consulate General at Chennai, receiving an award for my work with a US-based NGO called Delta Women, which worked for the rights of women in the US and in Nigeria, and the right to education for children in Nigeria. When I received the award, I truly felt like a hypocrite – because here I was, receiving an award when there was so much more left to be done, and when a girl was battling for her life because we as a community sacrificed her at the altar of patriarchy, misogyny, toxic and hegemonic masculinity, and inaction on part of a civilian populace that should have been vigilant,” she says.
The Red Elephant Foundation fights gender-based violence in many innovative ways, through storytelling, education, tech-based tools, and digital advocacy through campaigns like #MoreThanMyBody. In the TED talk below, she speaks about Chalkpeace, an initiative of The Red Elephant Foundation.
Recently, she tweeted about how, as part of the Foundation’s Ahimsa Project, they reworked games like Snakes and Ladders, Guess Who?, Taboo, and Pictionary to facilitate Peace Education and Gender Sensitization.
Kirthi is also an avid doodler. Realizing that women’s contributions to society and women’s history is often ignored or even actively buried, she started an Instagram project, called Femcyclopedia, to document the stories of inspiring women around the world.
Over and beyond all this, Kirthi has also authored books like The Doodler of Dimashq and The Dove’s Lament.
She truly is one multi-talented, phenomenal woman!
“It is not enough for organizations to work with the youth and their parents and address issues like consent, sexual violence and personal boundaries, if pop culture is going to normalize the objectification and stalking of women. This, again, can come only if we collaborate. My greatest grief comes from the competitive nature of organisations working in this domain. We are not in competition. We can make a difference only if we collaborate,” she says.
With her work impacting lives in so many ways, it is not surprising at all that Kirthi has won so much recognition for her work. She is the recipient of the US Presidential Services Medal (2012) for her services as a volunteer to Delta Women NGO, from President Barack Obama. She has won twice, the UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (2012, 2013). Her work has been published in The Guardian and the TIME Magazine. She was recognized by EuropeAid on the “200 Women in the World of Development Wall of Fame,” in 2016.” She received the Digital Women Award for Social Impact in 2017, from SheThePeople, Person of the Year Award, 2017 (Brew Magazine) and the Yuva Samman in 2018 (MOP Vaishnav College). She is also on the list of 30 Web Wonder Women announced recently by the Government of India’s Ministry of Women and Child Development. She is an Ambassador for hundrED, Postcards for Peace and other organizations.
35% of women experience physical or sexual violence. Men who saw their father’s using violence, or were subjected to violence as children are more likely to abuse others as adults. 137 women across the world are killed by a member of their own family every day. In such a scenario, Kirthi Jayakumar’s work is a symbol of hope and optimism.