Suhani Jalota was barely 15 years old when a research project on sanitation took her to slums of Mumbai. Growing up in privilege, she was shocked to witness the plight of women who struggled with the basic sanitation and menstrual hygiene. Sanitation wasn’t exactly a priority for most slum dwellers who struggled to make ends meet on an everyday basis.
Jalota went on to graduate from Duke University, but she continuously kept working on the projects related to sanitation and hygiene. Areas such as health of adolescent girls, water & sanitation, provision of menstrual hygiene and equal access to healthcare services for women also caught her attention. Being distressed by the everyday struggles of the women in the slums flared up young Jalota with the passion to bring about a meaningful change. She started Myna Mahila Foundation in 2015.
Normalizing what was once taboo
In India, something as basic as a woman’s health and hygiene continues to remain hushed-up, especially among marginalized sections. Menstrual hygiene is taboo and women still wrap sanitary napkins in black-polybags after buying them.
Operating with the three pillars of improving menstrual health, generating employment for women, and building trusted networks for women, Myna has so far manufactured, sponsored and ensured doorstep delivery of more than 12,00,000 sanitary pads. In this process, over 5,50,000 women have been reached.
To make marginalized women financially independent, local women are employed to manufacture and sell the sanitary pads. The Foundation reaches over 10,000 women in a month in various slum and slum rehabilitated areas in Mumbai.
Support initiatives of Myna Foundation
Not only does Myna produce and distribute sanitary pads, it also undertakes various other support initiatives to address the stigma, humiliation and fear around menstruation. Myna educates girls on usage and disposal of sanitary napkins and encourages them to accept and discuss periods as a normal, shame-free, regular bodily function.
Campus Ambassadors of Myna: Girls who cannot afford hygienic menstrual products are identified and enrolled in a sponsorship-program (you may consider Sponsoring a Girl). Campus Ambassadors of Myna are key members who create a network to facilitate conversations around menstrual hygiene and share Menstrual Hygiene Management Modules with various stakeholders including students and teachers at universities.
Myna Health App: Recently, Myna Health App has been launched too, that helps women track periods and health-related videos.
The only non-UK Foundation to get Royal wedding gift proceeds
For the tremendous work the foundation has been doing, the founder Suhani Jalota was named among Forbes 30 under 30 Asia in 2018, where 30 young leaders under the age of 30 years were listed for their contribution in sectors such as art, music, social mobilization, entrepreneurship, finance, film production etc. She was also honored with the Queen Young Leaders Award, and the Melissa and Doug Entrepreneurship Fellowship.
When Jalota was named one of Glamour magazine’s College Women of the Year in 2016, her work caught the attention of the Duchess of Sussex, Meghan Markle, at the awards luncheon in New York City. Markle eventually visited the foundation in Mumbai the following year and later invited Jalota to her wedding in 2018. This is how the Myna Mahila Foundation became the only non-UK organization to receive donations from the wedding guest gifts. Jalota has also been nominated for the Global Citizen Prize to be awarded in late 2021 by Cisco.
The Foundation has helped around 84,000 people under its COVID-19 relief plan through their mobile health clinic in 2020 and 2021. The clinic monitors health conditions of women and children in the urban slums, conducts tests and provides Covid relief if needed. Under its Myna Launchpad programme, the Foundation has the goal of providing health services to 2 million women and job opportunities for 100,000 women by 2025.
If you wish to work in the field of women’s menstrual hygiene, get involved here.