Kirthi Jayakumar

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Kirthi Jayakumar
Kirthi Jayakumar at FICCI FLO.jpg
Kirthi Jayakumar at FICCI FLO, July 2016
Kirthi Jayakumar

(1987-12-15) 15 December 1987 (age 31)
OccupationPeace and Gender Equality Activist, Author and Artist
Notable work
The Dove's Lament, Frankly Speaking

Kirthi Jayakumar (born 15 December 1987) is an Indian women's rights activist, a social entrepreneur, a peace activist, artist, lawyer and writer.[1] She is a Commonwealth Scholar, a VV Lead Fellow, a VV Engage Fellow, a Local Pathways Fellow, and a World Pulse Impact Leader. Kirthi is also a Fellow of the Royal Society of Arts.

She founded The Red Elephant Foundation, an initiative built on storytelling, civilian peace-building and activism for gender equality. She is the author of Stories of Hope, a collection of short stories; The Dove's Lament, also a collection of short stories. She received the US Presidential Services Medal in 2011[2] and two United Nations' Online Volunteering Awards in 2012[3] and 2013.[4]


Kirthi was born as Kirthi Jayakumar in Bangalore, India, to Hindu parents. She studied Law at the School of Excellence in Law, Chennai, Tamil Nadu.[5][6]

She earned her MA in Sustainable Peace in a Contemporary World from UPeace, Costa Rica.[7] She is currently a student at the Centre for Trust, Peace, and Security at Coventry University, doing her Master's degree in Peace and Conflict Studies on a Commonwealth Scholarship. She has worked as a UN Online Volunteer,[8] a freelance journalist and a writer of ad hoc features.


Kirthi is an artist, working on pen and ink to curate "Zen doodles."[9] She uses doodling as a means to express her activism for gender equality and peace education.[10]

She runs an Instagram based project called Femcyclopaedia[11][12][13] where she doodles portraits of inspiring women through the ages and from across the world and curates their stories under these portraits.[14] The story of Femcyclopaedia won a Story Award from World Pulse in February 2017.[15]

Kirthi curated an exhibit for International Women's Day and Women's History Month at the US Consulate General in Chennai as part of Femcyclopaedia.[16][17][18]


Stories of Hope is Kirthi’s first solo book, comprising a collection of short stories. She co-authored a book titled Love Me Mama: The Unfavoured Child, along with Elsie Ijorogu-Reed, the founder of Delta Women NGO.[19]She is also the author of The Dove's Lament, published by Readomania. The book was nominated for the Muse India Young Author's Award in 2015.[20] A review by Femina of The Dove's Lament suggests that, "Kirthi embroiders a tapestry of unvanquished human spirit in words."[21]

The Times of India reviewed The Dove's Lament, with its critic opining that

"...The Dove's Lament takes the reader to several such places with a compassion that shakes you to your very core."[22]


Kirthi wrote a play, Frankly Speaking,[23][24] which, essentially starts off from where The Diary of Anne Frank ends. The play channels the voices of eight young women from conflict zones in different parts of the world, and is interspersed with passages from The Diary of Anne Frank.[25][26][27]

She also wrote and acted in HerStory, which brings twelve women from history alive through poetry, performed through contemporary dance in sync with spoken word poetry.[28] Kirthi wrote a monologue and performed it as part of Dolls, by Crea-Shakthi.[29]

Kirthi also lent her voice to the audiobook version of "Like A Girl" by Aparna Jain, where she narrated the stories of Justice Leila Seth, Mayawati, Jayalalithaa, Dipa Karmakar, Shah Bano Begum, Tessy Thomas, and Gauri Sawant.[30]


Kirthi is an activist on women's rights issues and peace and conflict. She runs The Red Elephant Foundation. She has worked in voluntary capacities with "16 civil societies and UN agencies"[8] through the UN Online Volunteering program.[31] She is a columnist for the Deccan Chronicle/Asian Age.[32]

Kirthi is a Global Youth Ambassador with A World At School run by Sarah Brown.[33][34]

She coded an app for survivors of Gender-Based Violence, called Saahas,[35] to help them find help across nine verticals, across 196 countries.[36] It serves as a tool for bystander intervention support.[37]

In 2013, Kirthi founded her own initiative, The Red Elephant Foundation.[38][39] She produced two e-Books on entrepreneurship in Africa with the AAE[40] and headed a team that worked for the opening of the first ever school in Okoijorogu, Nigeria, a village that had never had a school for its children until 2013.[4]

Public speaking[edit]

In October 2016, Kirthi delivered a TEDx Talk at TEDxChennai, addressing her work around peace education as a solution to end bullying.[41][42] In November 2017, she delivered a TEDx Talk at TEDxChoice, addressing her art project, Femcyclopaedia.[43]

In November 2016, she delivered a talk at the National Edu-Start Up Conference in Pune, talking about Peace Education as a sustainable solution to create well rounded citizens.[44]

Kirthi was a speaker at Lakshya-SSN's annual event, SYCON, speaking about her work with The Red Elephant Foundation and the curation of the GBV Help Map.[45] She was the keynote speaker at SRM Aarambh, speaking about her story as a social entrepreneur in the Gender Equality space.[46]

In April 2017, Kirthi addressed the Rotary Club of Madras South on the topic "Women's Empowerment: Myths and Realities."[47] She spoke at the Economic Times Women's Summit in March 2018, on her work with her app, Saahas.[48]

Kirthi was a speaker at ISFiT 2019 alongside Tawakkol Karman and Gro Harlem Bruntland, addressing women and peacebuilding.[49][50]

Awards and recognition[edit]

Kirthi is the recipient of the United States Presidential Service Award from President Barack Obama (2011–12).[2][51][52] She won the Gold, Silver and Bronze awards. She received two United Nations Online Volunteering Awards, in 2012 and 2013, for her work with Delta Women and the Association for African Entrepreneurs.[3]

In 2015, Kirthi was nominated for the Digital Women Awards 2015, presented by She The People TV.[53]

In March 2016, she was one of the EU top 200 Women in the World of Development Wall of Fame. She was also one of the nominated changemakers for the United State of Women 2016.[54] She is a two-time story award winner with World Pulse, and her work has been picked up and published by Time Magazine.[38][55]

Kirthi has been acknowledged by India Today as one of the "Game changers" in the city of Chennai, "who are transforming the city with inspiring thought and hard work."[56]

She was the youngest speaker to address a gathering at FICCI FLO, Chennai.[57]

In September 2016, Kirthi was a shortlistee for the Rising Stars Award 2016 by We are the City India,[58] which she went onto win. In October 2016, she was recognized as one of the "52 Feminists" by[59]

In October 2016, Kirthi was recognized as a Burgundy Achiever at the Digital Women Awards 2016, presented by She The People TV.[60] She received the Peace Award from the Global Peace Initiative in November 2016.[61][62] She was selected as an Impact Leader at World Pulse in November 2016.[63] She won the Orange Flower Award for Video Blogging, awarded by Women's Web.[64][65] Kirthi was featured in Sarah Brown's Better Angels Podcast alongside UN Secretary General Antonio Guterres, Harriet Lamb, and Jakaya Kikwete.[66]

Kirthi was featured on Google's WomenWill Landing page on International Women's Day, 2017, as part of a five-women-stories feature by World Pulse.[67] She was declared as one of "eleven of India's feminist bloggers who are making a difference to women's lives" by Women's Web.[68] She was featured on Show of Force: Social Good.[69] She was awarded Outstanding Social Entrepreneur (NGO) of the Year, by FICCI FLO Chennai (2018)[70] Kirthi received the Heroes of Chennai Award in the Social Good category in November 2018.[71] She also serves as a member of the youth council as part of the Global Business Coalition for Education (GBC-Education).[72]

List of awards received[edit]

  • US Presidential Services Medal (Gold, Silver and Bronze) 2011-2012
  • UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (Delta Women) 2012[73]
  • UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (Association of African Entrepreneurs) 2012[73]
  • UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (Delta Women) 2013[74]
  • UN Online Volunteer of the Year Award (Association of African Entrepreneurs) 2013[75]
  • Axis Bank Burgundy Achiever (Digital Media Awards, She The People TV) 2015
  • Finalist, Muse India Young Author's Award in 2015.[20]
  • Axis Bank Burgundy Achiever (Digital Media Awards, She The People TV) 2016
  • World Pulse Voices of the Future Participant 2015
  • Vital Voices VV Lead Fellow 2015
  • Story Awards Winner (World Pulse) June 2016
  • Story Awards Winner (World Pulse) July 2016
  • Rising Stars of India Award (We Are The City India) 2016
  • World Pulse Impact Leader Award (World Pulse) 2016
  • The Peace Award (Global Peace Initiative) 2016
  • Orange Flower Award for Video Blogging, Orange Flower Awards, (Women's Web), 2016
  • Local Pathways Fellow (UN SDSN), 2017[76]
  • Story Award Winner (World Pulse) February 2017
  • Women's Leadership Award (eDC IIT & The Dais Foundation, New Delhi) March 2017
  • Runner-up, Martha Farrell Award 2017
  • Winner, Social Impact Awards (Digital Media Awards, She The People TV) 2017
  • Social Entrepreneur of the Year, 2017 (Brew Magazine)
  • Young Achiever (Entrepreneurship) MOP Yuva Samman (2017-2018)
  • Outstanding Social Entrepreneur (NGO) of the Year, FICCI FLO Chennai (2018)[70]
  • Nominee, True Honour Awards, 2018[77]
  • Outstanding Woman Achiever Award 2018, FICCI FLO, Jaipur (2018)
  • Commonwealth Scholarship (2018)
  • Vital Voices VV Engage Fellow (2018)[78]
  • Heroes of Chennai - Social Good (Rising) (2018)[71]
  • World Pulse Story Award Winner (January 2019)
  • HerStory Woman on a Mission Award (March 2019)
  • Web Wonder Woman (Ministry of Women and Child Development, Twitter India and Breakthrough India) (March 2019)[79]
  • CII-IWN Award for Unsung Heroes, March 2019
  • Finalist, Sandvik Gender Awards, July 2019
  • Best Feminist Voice, The Lifestyle Journal Awards, August 2019
  • Fellow, The Royal Society of Arts, 2019


Sexual violence as a phenomenon across the peacetime-wartime continuum[edit]

Kirthi Jayakumar developed a conceptual model of a ‘wartime-peacetime sexual violence continuum’,[80][81] in which pre-existing rigid gender roles and ‘peacetime’ gender violence lays the foundations for wartime rape.[82]

In ethnic conflicts wartime sexual violence can draw upon "peacetime" conceptions of "good women" and "bad women", the classic patriarchal virgin/whore dichotomy, whilst imbuing it with racist overtones in which, for instance, the women of the "enemy" side are "dirty" or subhuman; similarly, patriarchal restrictions on male behaviour are both drawn upon to humiliate the "enemy" and create specific stigmas for male sexual assault survivors in the aftermath of their assault.[80]

A new version of the Bechdel Test[edit]

Kirthi developed a version of the Bechdel Test in order to evaluate Indian cinema. Given that the Indian Film Industry is significantly influential and that there have been many issues emerging from the impact on the occurrence of violence against women,[83] the Bechdel Test inspired the creation of this new test.[84]

The test is built on the value of intersectionality in gender equality. It involves a series of questions that must be asked and answered about a work of fiction for it to be acceptable as a piece of work that is not discriminatory:

  • Are women (cis, trans) portrayed independently with a narrative backstory unique to them, as opposed to being portrayed through a male lens?
  • Are women (cis, trans) portrayed with a narrative arc that is beyond the stereotypes ascribed to them by the culture that the story they are in, is set, in?
  • Are the women (cis, trans) treated with value for their personal agency in the portrayal in the film?
  • Are the women (cis, trans) portraying hackneyed stereotypes with respect to their individual identities and choices?
  • If violence is shown, is it a portrayal of a realistic situation or an integral part of the story (for instance, telling the story of a survivor of violence)? If violence is shown, is it an unnecessary element to reassert male dominance and masculinity?
  • What role does a woman's (cis, trans) caste, class, religion, language and other cultural attributes, play - are they meaningless caricatures, are they substantial, are they used to mock, or are they portrayed with authenticity?

An Intersectional Understanding of Patriarchy[edit]

Kirthi assessed the conceptual framework of patriarchy through the lens of Kimberle Crenshaw's concept of Intersectionality:[85]

"...If we want to feminise a space to shift a mindset in favour of the equal treatment of all genders, we need to recognize that patriarchy operates differently in each space, and to address patriarchy alone would be redundant. Therefore, it is important to understand both truths: that the experience of oppression as a result of male privilege intersects with multiple identity attributes that complicate the gender experience AND; that the experience of wielding power from male privilege intersects with multiple identity attributes that complicate the narrative propping up patriarchy."



  • The Doodler of Dimashq (Readomania, 2017)
  • The Dove's Lament (Readomania, 2015)
  • Stories of Hope (Maitreya, 2013)
  • Love Me Mama (co-authored with Elsie Ijorogu Reed) (2012)
  • When they Spoke (Readomania, contributor) (2016)
  • Defiant Dreams (Readomania, contributor) (2016)
  • Mock Stalk and Quarrel (Readomania, contributor) (2016)
  • Chronicles of Urban Nomads (Readomania, contributor) (2014)


  • Public International Law (2014)
  • Essays on Gender in Peace and Conflict (2014)
  • Mother of the Nations (Demeter Press, Contributor, 2015)[86]
  • Redefining UN Peacekeeping Law and Revival of the Trusteeship Council (LAP, 2015)
  • Routledge Handbook of South Asian Criminology (Routledge, Contributor, 2019)[87]


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