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'Social mindsets need to change' 

Over 40 independent voices of women from FICCI FLO (FICCI Ladies Organisation), Chennai, was channelised by one strong voice on stage at Crowne Plaza. City-based lawyer, researcher, writer and women’s rights activist Kirthi Jayakumar who was invited to be part of Michelle Obama’s United State of Women Summit at Washington DC delivered a talk on ‘Women and empowerment’.

“What is women empowerment?” she asked. Receiving mixed responses for the same, she opined, “It is all about freedom of choice and also boils down to the substance of choice.”

The 27-year-old has not only worked in India as a women’s right activist, but has also been a part of NGOs and campaigns around the world. She has worked with an NGO called Delta, which set up a first school in a village in Nigeria. “I want to take the idea of equality and empowerment to more schools,” shared the activist who won the US Presidential Services Medal and a UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award for the success of Delta.

But when did she get involved in women’s issues and other related campaigns? Pat comes the reply: “December 16, 2012 — the gang rape of Nirbhaya. It kicked me to do something for human rights and more specifically women,” said this avid buff of Anne Frank diary. “I’ve read her diary at least over a 100 times. Such an inspiration.”

Growing up in a family of liberals, she said, “My mother is an alternative healer, my brother and father are both lawyers. I wasn’t treated differently. We were all given equal importance. Being a lawyer was a means to help others. I’ve always wanted to help others and this couldn’t have been possible without my family’s support.”

Kirthi runs her own NGO Red Elephant which aims to change the mindsets in society through sustained campaigns and programmes in the country. “Even today families are hesitant to use words like sex, and rape. Sex education, which is essential for the growth of a child, is being opposed by parents. This ought to change,” she added.

Kirthi stressed on the importance of education that’s crucial to usher in the change. “Education of the girl child is important. I’ve seen how a family has benefited after educating their girl child. They might be hesitant about it in the beginning, but, when they see the impact it has on their child and the family, they’ll definitely welcome the change,” she explained.

Kirthi argued for a collective responsibility to make a positive change in how the society views womanhood. “I don’t understand how a man can get the girl he wants by stalking her and doing things that displease her. It’s everyone’s responsibility to make a positive change and the media play a major role in it.”

Red Elephant has taken up a campaign to break gender stereotypes. “I wish to see a place that doesn’t need organisations to spread awareness on the rights of a person. But in a realistic world, I wish to see a change in the next few years, especially in the mindset of people,” she added.