Seventy-five percent of women in India buy sanitary napkins in a brown paper bag or wrapped up in paper because they feel immense shame related to menstruation. This is especially common in more urban areas like Delhi and Mumbai. There is a clear stigma surrounding menstruation in Mumbai, which greatly increases health risks because women are not taking care of their bodies as they should be.
Whether over fear of social discrimination or other reasons, many women change their attitudes and behaviors during menstruation. For example, nearly 50 percent of respondents to a survey by Quartz Media reported that they do not share a bed with their significant other during their periods. Other actions include isolating themselves in their bedroom, avoiding touching food due to a fear of contamination and using old rags rather than sanitary napkins so that shopkeepers do not judge them.
Recent movements have begun in order to destroy this stigma surrounding menstruation in Mumbai and throughout India. Myna Mahila Foundation is an organization that is attempting to make menstruation a less shameful topic.
In 2015, a college student studying at Duke University discovered how she would contribute to this movement. While volunteering in the slums of India, Suhani Jalota looked at the women around her and came to a realization. Jalota recognized that, in a place where menstruation was considered impure, the solution was to talk about empowerment.
With support from her father, Jalota launched the Myna Mahila Foundation in order to employ poor women in Mumbai. She wanted to train the organization’s employees to be entrepreneurs who could create their own products for income. These products just happened to be sanitary products for menstruation and maternity.
Jalota wanted to teach women how to be comfortable talking about their bodies and the natural bodily function of menstruation. She began by employing four women, training them to feel comfortable describing how pads work and then selling them door-to-door.
A few years later, the Myna Mahila Foundation now employs close to 20 women, has sold over 20,000 pads and has over 1,000 loyal customers. The dedicated team, aside from making and selling menstrual and maternity products, also holds workshops and camps to educate women and foster leadership development throughout the community in Mumbai. Its focus on generating empowerment for women has certainly paid off.
One testimonial cited on the foundation’s website says “Before I joined Myna Mahila Foundation, I would be scared to even leave my house to go to the market. But the women I have met here have changed my life – they help me realize my self-confidence and stand by me when I need help. I never want to go back home at the end of the day, as I learn I can only hope that we have many more Myna Mahila in the time to come!”
Jalota’s inspirational goal came true because of her determination to make a change and the support she has received from her family and community. By working together, they are challenging the stigma surrounding menstruation in Mumbai and giving women the confidence they need to chase down their own dreams just like Jalota has.
– Caysi Simpson