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Published on: 29/05/2020

Srilekha is a young professional from India with a focus on WASH and Sexual Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) advocacy with indigenous tribal women and girls.

Advocacy through art with rural communities

She is driven by her close experience with how in poor, rural areas, discussions on gender, menstrual hygiene and women's health take a back seat. In many of her activities, she is using art to demystify taboos with adolescents and youth.

An example of what this type of approach can lead to is the story of two young girls – Zeba and Anjum - who made a model of a uterus with Gulmohar flowers during an art session that Srilekha conducted. The red colour symbolizes power, strength and period blood whereas the blooming flower represents good health.

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Since the last four days I took up a massive work with two fellow artists on allowing adolescents from the marginalized communities of Jharkhand to express themselves through their art. All these for the wall mural we are planning to design in the village nearby this #menstrualhygieneday . With colours and paints and submerged in our thoughts we spent our last few days. Among the participants were little Zeba and Anjum who even during Roza attended the daily sessions, painted with us and kept providing exceptional inputs in the session. The last day of the session they made a uterus made out of Gulmohor flower. The red symbolizing power, strength and period blood. And the blooming flower representing good health. My heart ached, I just witnessed the true power of religion and belief in them. I witnessed belief for the world to be a better place to live in, belief to attend sessions talking about sexuality, gender and menstruation during day and go back home in the evening to only call me back saying 'Didi Roza Khol liya Maine' with that laughter in her voice and a promise to come back the next day. Far away from every madness I find peace in Zeba and Anjum. The world should learn from them ❤️ #PeriodsPeCharcha #artist #artistsoninstagram #menstruation #selfexpression #makingofthemural #rurallife #Lifeisgood #love #emotions #goodpeople

A post shared by the_gender_bae (@the_gender_bae) on May 18, 2019 at 3:00am PDT

Another art project of Srilekha links to the flagship campaign of the Central Government of India, Swachh Bharat Abhiyan, which promised to bring 'Comprehensive Sanitation and Hygiene' amongst people in rural India. However, the wall writings on Swachh Bharat Abhiyan have been speaking about toilet construction and cleanliness only. There were no wall writings about menstruation to encourage people to challenge the taboo. So, Srilekha mobilised artists and communities for a 'menstruation matters' mural project. You can read more about this project in her blog here.

Engaging local government and global platforms in period talk

Whereas engaging with communities is at the heart of her work, she also recognises the importance of government leadership. In 2019, she curated a campaign called Freedom to Bleed during the Independence Day in India. She convinced a local politician to help young girls actually experience freedom and independence from the stigma of blood. They reached out to more than 1000 women and girls in a week. The man speaking in the opening scene of the video below is the first political leader who ever spoke about periods in that constituency.

Srilekha is also dedicated to elevating stories from grassroots levels to as many people and platforms as possible. Through her #PeriodsPeCharcha (Let's Talk Periods) campaign she addressed issues of indigenous remote communities in Jharkhand, a state in eastern India. In this video, she talks about menstrual hygiene challenges faced by young girls in the area

About winning the Ton Schouten Award for WASH storytelling

In the words of our selection committee members - Vida Duti, Liduin Schouten, Sean Furey and Dave Trouba - Srilekha seems to do her communications work purely driven by passion and heart to help others, she naturally focuses on social inclusion and uses a wide variety of channels and forms of communication, from social media messages to videos and blogs. 

In the words of Srilekha? See this video or read her response below it. 

It is interesting that I win this award in a time that is technically one of the darkest of all we have seen as a generation. This award comes to me as a hope that there is a lot of work that is left to do and the show must go on! It will help me continue my fight on the ground.

I would like to thank all the organisations and mentors and the community people who supported me throughout my journey and made me someone worthy to receive this award, I am honoured and it will take some time to sink in.

While there's a lot of fund-crunch that civil society organisations at the grassroots level are going through and projects on women's health are receiving a severe blow, I wish to use this award money to reach out to the most vulnerable section of adolescents and youth and keep creating more art, storytelling and workshops on menstruation. Because periods don't stop for pandemics and neither should our activism.
– says Srilekha.

What's next?

We received a rich and inspiring selection of candidates, whom we're hoping to continue to be in touch with throughout the year. Keep an eye on this page dedicated to all things Ton Schouten Award for information about the award and updates on the work of talented young communicators in the WASH community. Srilekha has shared some great ideas about what she is planning to invest her award prize in. We will also share updates on her activities on this page. So stay tuned.

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