Be it lack of education, economic disempowerment, gender bias or issues such as female foeticide, child marriage and sexual violence, girls and women in many countries continue to be a vulnerable section.
An Indian artist based in Singapore, however, has been using the "healing touch of art" to share positive stories of fathers and daughters through her illustrations to bring about a positive social change.
Debasmita Dasgupta, the creator of the “My Father illustrations”, feels there is an urgent need to include fathers in the mainstream dialogue around the girl child’s rights.
"Often patriarchy is blamed and punishments are meted out to men violating girls’ rights," Debasmita points out. "These men are systematically excluded from the dialogues and interventions addressing these problems. Unfortunately such exclusion only worsens the problem. Therefore, I see the urgent need to bring men to the forefront of dialogue.”
“By bringing the positive stories of men - being the agent of success in the lives of their daughters – to the forefront, I am breaking the chain of hatred and blame. My stand is positive since the world needs positive stories to bring down the negative bias,” Debasmita explains.
It was in 2013 that Debasmita, who is also a children’s book illustrator, began her project after watching the TED talk of Shabana Basij, an Afghan human rights and education activist.
Though Shabana grew up in Afghanistan during the Taliban regime, her father always worked towards providing her access to education. Debasmita says that Shabana spoke warmly of her father, telling the audience that he used to say, “People can take away everything from you except your knowledge.”
Shabana’s story became the first illustration in the “My Father illustrations” project.
Over the years, Debasmita kept looking for father-daughter stories from around the world. “Some I found, some found me,” she smiles.
All her illustrations are based on real life stories that she collects from different sources - the field, media reports and even fathers and daughters writing to her and sharing their stories.
“I have shared around 200 stories from 46 countries,” Debasmita says.
Debasmita, who grew up in Kolkata, shares a very close bond with her parents, especially her father who is a theatre actor and director. It was watching him at work that helped her find her “purpose” as an artist.
“My father is my ideal. He is a self-made man of strong principles,” Debasmita says.
Her evocative illustrations have touched a chord with many across the globe.
She has received hundreds of messages from the followers of “My Father illustrations” expressing “awe, inspiration, pleasure, happiness and myriad other emotions.” She adds that many subjects of her stories have expressed gratitude and love.
The positivity that emerges from the project is what keeps her going.
While all her illustrations are close to her heart, Debasmita describes one of her latest drawings - inspired by the life of an acid-attack survivor from India – to have created a deep impact on her.
Monica Singh was just 19 when the life-altering attack took place. Debasmita says, “However, neither she nor her father, Mahendra Singh, lost hope. They kept walking until the end of the tunnel and finally the darkness was over.”
Monica is now a fashion design student at the prestigious Parsons School of Fashion in New York. And she has set up The Mahendra Singh Foundation to train other survivors with skills to become self-sufficient.
In 2015, Debasmita started Doodle with Dad (DwD), an initiative that facilitates community art camps in order to provide a space for dialogue between fathers and daughters and help strengthen their bond.
Debasmita says, “‘Art’ as a medium of communication for these camps helps to initiate discussions on sensitive topics including female foeticide, child marriage, and violence against girls.”
For more illustrations, check the My Father illustrations Facebook page here.