Sekulu Nyekha is the youngest winner among a group of 40 of the ‘120 Under 40: The New Generation of Family Planning Leaders’—an initiative by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. This Dimapur-based young activist is an active advocate of sexual wellness and reproductive health of young people who volunteers with the International Youth Alliance on Family Planning (IYAFP).

Key Takeaways:

  • Sekulu Nyekha has become the youngest to win among a group of 40 winners of the ‘120 Under 40: The New Generation of Family Planning Leaders’.
  • Nyekha’s project specifically targets people with disability and their sexual reproductive wellbeing.
  • Nyekha completed her schooling in Kohima after which she went on to do graduation in performing arts and visual communication with psychology.
  • The winners include two more Indians apart from Nyekha-Suchi Bansal from the University of Chicago and Rajesh Kumar Rai, a senior research scientist with the West Bengal health and family welfare department.

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The Gate Foundation initiative aims to raise awareness around the crucial subjects of family planning and reproductive health around the world by benefiting young people. Nyekha’s project specifically targets people with disability and their sexual reproductive wellbeing. She came across this subject during a summer internship programme that she did two years ago with an initiative — Hidden Pockets Collective. This Bengaluru-based organisation focuses on finding safe spaces for women to share their sexual health issues.

International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP) in Kigali Rwanda

At Hidden Pockets Collective, she did 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.

“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, IE reported.

Nyekha completed her schooling in Kohima after which she went on to do graduation in performing arts and visual communication with psychology from Jyoti Niwas College Autonomous, Bangalore. Now her goal in her professional career is to continue on the path of advocacy around family planning.

Nyekha is entitled to 1,000 USD from the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health.

“Sex and reproductive health is an important issue. We come from a community where we never talk about sex, contraception etc. I want to work on the subject as I have witnessed my friends getting pregnant at a very young age or go through abortions because they didn’t have enough knowledge,”

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The winners include two more Indians apart from Nyekha – Suchi Bansal from the University of Chicago and Rajesh Kumar Rai, a senior research scientist with the West Bengal health and family welfare department.

The initiative was launched in 2015 with a vision to select 40 winners under 40 years of age from across the world who have made a significant contribution to family planning in categories like advocacy, research, policy, media etc. The winners for 2019 will be the last ones who will get USD 1,000 each from the Bill and Melinda Gates Institute for Population and Reproductive Health to continue their work in family planning or begin new projects.

“These young leaders are creating lasting positive change worldwide, and their impact will only multiply as they forge new relationships and collaborations with their fellow 120 Under 40 winners,” said Jose ‘Oying’ Rimon II, director of the Gates Institute in a statement.

Sekulu Nyekha speaks with SheThePeople.TV about her journey and future goals:

Where did you get the idea of focusing on sexualities among disabled people?

I have always been keen on working with people with disabilities since I was a child. But I did not know how to engage with them and only knew that I wanted to. This was after I was introduced to sexual and reproductive health rights through internships and volunteering work I did and also simultaneously when I was working on my other research paper for college. I realised that people with disabilities are always side-lined. There were a lot of things that I was curious to know about them but it was always through a second-person’s perspective. There were also certain claims like people with disabilities are asexual which was the weirdest thing I had heard. Along the way these prejudices made me want to work with people with disabilities a lot more. I wanted to concentrate on their sexual reproductive health as a sensitive topic in itself.

What are your future goals with the platform you are setting out to build?

The platform I am currently working on is a story-telling platform for people with disabilities which will touch on a lot of topics concerning them. Right now I am focussing on sexuality and people with disabilities and further, if things go as planned then I will also include a varied variety of topics around disability like identifying them as activists and leaders so as to remove the stigma that they are victims because they are not.

They will be the ones running the platform while I will just be a medium. What I am working on right now is to help them narrate their stories in whichever medium that they want.

Why is it that we don’t talk about sexual and reproductive health in our society?

It is because a lot of us and not just older people want to believe that people are not having sex and everyone is uncomfortable talking about it. But at the end of the day, it is a very important part of our existence.

Has your family been supportive of the work that you do?

Initially, I did not explain it to them properly because even I did not have full knowledge of what I was getting into but later on, I found myself to be deeply invested in it. Sometimes they would ask me about my work and I would tell them about it but once I was called for a conference in Africa and it was then that I told my family about what I was going to talk about in detail. They did not stop me or made me feel uncomfortable about what I am doing.

How can we have more safe spaces to resolve the issue?

If we introduce comprehensive sex education in schools and colleges it would help to de-stigmatize the subject. When it comes to the gynaecologists, I know for a fact that even today if people visit doctors for a check-up, they are asked uncomfortable questions that are borderline moral policing. This is something that makes people scared of visiting a gynaecologist and if one doesn’t go then their health is affected.

How important is it to talk about sexual wellbeing?

A lot of people try to impose on young people that they should not have sex and things like these leads to more ignorance. When one starts to acknowledge sexual wellbeing and the nature of it and also understands the importance of something as simple as menstrual hygiene which is regressive can we move forward. We have a long way to go in terms of awareness and so it all starts from starting a dialogue.

Picture credit: Sekulu Nyekha

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