Among the youngest chosen by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to be the “new generation of family planning leaders”, one has the loudest voice. “It is time the government takes note: we have no sex education is school, we are never told anything about our body, about sexual health or even about puberty or menstrual hygiene. This needs to change. We need to talk about our bodies,” says 22-year-old Sekulu Nyekha from Nagaland.
Just last week, Nyekha was selected for the ‘120 Under 40: The New Generation of Family Planning Leaders’, an initiative by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to raise awareness about family planning and reproductive health around the world. As part of the initiative, she will join 40 people around the world to undertake projects that will benefit young people in sexual and reproductive health.
While Nyekha’s project will focus on the sexual reproductive health issues of people with disability, she was drawn to the subject two years back, during a summer internship programme with the Bengaluru-based Hidden Pockets Collective, an organisation that works towards finding women safe spaces to discuss sexual health issues.
However, even when she was younger and studying in Kohima, the fact that sex was (and still is) a taboo topic affected her greatly.
“One of my closest friends in school had to undergo an abortion. She did not have the courage to tell me about it until after it was done. Later she told me that it was the most humiliating experience of her life because of the way the nurses treated her at the clinic,” says Nyekha.
Incidents like these back home in Nagaland— a Christian majority state — made Nyekha think. “Abstinence from sex before marriage is considered virtuous yet HIV rate prevalent in Nagaland is the third highest in the country. The problem is that there is a complete lack of awareness. After I was exposed to sexual and reproductive health rights after I began interning, I thought of so many wrongs that could have been undone, just with a little awareness.”
And that is what Nyekha wants to do: spread awareness. Her two years at Hidden Pockets Collective has seen her do a range of things: from mapping health clinics in different cities of India to attending International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) in Kigali Rwanda, 2018 as a plenary speaker and writer.
Apart from her two Indians, Suchi Bansal from the University of Chicago and Rajesh Kumar Rai, a senior research scientist with the West Bengal health and family welfare department, have been selected. The initiative was started in 2016, and the 2019 batch marks the culmination of the project.
“I am still trying to process the information that I won,” says Nyekha, who recently graduated in Visual Communication, Performing Arts and Psychology from the Jyoti Niwas College in Bengaluru.
As part of the initiative, Nyekha, alongwith the other winners, has received USD 1,000 each from the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health.
“I will use this to work full time in creating a story telling platform for people with disabilities. We barely have any stories about them, and the ones we have are filtered. In my project, they — not others — will talk about their realities and hopes in relation to sexual reproductive health,” says Nyekha.