I Am A Woman Whose Mission Is To Make Menstrual Hygiene A Must: Deepanjali Dalmia
- IWB Post
- April 1, 2019
Bleeding, periods, menstruation- words that in today’s supposedly modern era are still met with a displeased-frowny look. It’s not really hard to imagine the kind of reaction the discussion of menstrual hygiene gets. And to top that, a woman to take up this tauba-tauba topic as her career? Described as ditching sanskaars, right? Well, Deepanjali Damia fits the bill perfectly!
Working in Ernst and Young as a financial consultant, she led the ideal life that any 20-something can dream of. A high paying job, working in a good team, living the life in New York, and yet she left it all to address the issue of menstrual hygiene. While the synthetic sanitary napkins majorly used take hundreds of years to degrade and contain chemicals that are pretty harmful healthwise as well, the natural pads made out of bamboo that Deepanjali’s company, Heyday launched in 2017 are not only healthy but degrade within six months!
Recently included in the Forbes 30 under 30 list, this 26-year-old is “grateful for the inclusion but my mission needs many more milestones to be truly worthy of acclamations.” Dedicated and humble, haan? Why don’t we chat with her to know more about her and her mission? Excerpts:
What was it that made you realize that you need a career change?
This particular decision was not something I obsessed over for a long-time, it was pretty spontaneous if I remember it correctly. I had quit my job within seven days. All I knew at that moment that there was this fire in me that wasn’t getting the right direction. Earning money is great but if you are not passionate about it then all that is just a huge pile of waste that you worked hard for.
Rightly said, but why did you choose to focus on menstrual hygiene particularly?
Coming from a family that never hindered my aspirations, the issues faced by the women in society always used to bother me. So combining this with my feeling of un-utilized potential, I embarked on the path of doing something worthwhile. It was during my research, that I truly realized the problem of menstrual hygiene in India, even among the women of the metropolitan cities, just because of the unnecessary veil of embarrassment that shields this much-needed-to-be-discussed topic.
The biggest discovery that Deepanjali made during her research was that most of the women aren’t even aware of the dangers their one of the most sensitive parts of the body is exposed to due to the usage of artificial pads. Synthetic sanitary napkins are made of plastics, polymers, chemicals, bleaches and perfumes. As the airflow to the vagina is blocked, these chemicals are directly absorbed into the bloodstream that leads to health hazards like cervical cancer, UTIs, yeast infections, rashes, allergies, painful period, impaired fertility and birth defects.
To tell you the truth, I was a bit surprised to know that Heyday produces organic pads made from bamboo fibre?
Well, I experimented with different plants and ended up choosing bamboo fibre because of the fact that it is very absorbent so it can compete with synthetic polymers used by other sanitary napkins, which had a way higher absorbent capacity. And to create a pad that is natural and yet has the absorbent quotient was a bit of a challenge for us.
Another reason was that it has natural anti-bacterial agents, so it was not needed for us to add anything artificial to our pads which other synthetic sanitary napkin brands add. And it was my mission to create an end-to-end organic, biodegradable and healthy sanitary napkin right from its production until it reaches the consumer.
Looks like you did your research well. So, pardon my silly question here, but how do you make these pads soft like the synthetic ones?
Nah, not silly but a genuine concern! We developed a new kind of technology with two years of rigorous research that layers bamboo fibre, seven layers to be exact, mixed with cornstarch to give the pad a very soft texture.
Amazing! But what I am more curious to know is how your family reacted to your decision of quitting your job?
When I told my family about my decision to work on menstrual hygiene, they were pretty distraught, to tell you the truth. In fact, it was the first time I had talked to my father about menstruation, talked to a man about a ‘woman’s problem,’ and a stereotype was broken right there. They were aghast about the mere idea, as any parent would be, and were not really happy initially, but again, as they are pretty open-minded individuals compared to others and were ready to support any idea I was passionate about.
With that, the negative views of some people who found my work to be ‘wrong’ and ‘derogatory’ lost their importance for me. What really mattered was that I was working on something with my complete heart and it was helping people.
Well, your family turned out to be pretty supportive but what about the market, did they accept a newbie like you?
When it comes to the other challenges I faced, it is the existing big giant brands in the markets against which my start-up needed to work extra hard to stand a chance, especially when it is a new product mostly unheard of by the masses. I was new to this retail market with no prior experience so I had to learn everything from scratch and build. Also, for the market to trust us, it is a whole new level of difficulty for us.
That must have been one trying journey for you.
Well, I always was and still am a bit of a daredevil. I am not afraid of others when I am right. Yes, I am a woman whose mission is better menstrual hygiene. It taught me that the smallest action demands your dedication and once you give it your all, everything eventually becomes possible.
Oh, so you’re one badass, haan? How about telling me a bit more about yourself like how you pamper yourself during your periods?
A hot water bottle in bed with my favourite meals. Heaven!
Ah, it truly is. Any new innovations that you have in store?
An organic, biodegradable and healthy diaper for infants so as to stop their harmful exposure to plastics on a daily basis.
Well, you’ll get the blessings of many parents for sure. Coming back to the mentality around menstrual hygiene, do you think it has improved?
Young children today are more open-minded and not giggly or shy as we used to be when someone used to talk to us about menstruation in our childhood. But still, the issue persists. When I hold workshops and sessions in schools, aiming to make the children aware of menstrual hygiene, I ask them “How many of you have discussed this with your mother?” And about 95% of them raise their hands, a good sign? Yes, but when I ask if they’ve discussed the same with their father, or brother the answer is still a big no.
There are still people who consider conversations on this topic to be unnatural and unholy for whom people like me are uncivilized.
So, these sessions you hold in schools, do they consist of both girls and boys?
It depends on the school’s policies and one can’t really go against them. But as I said, awareness is slowly yet gradually coming through. Like I was holding a session in Amity Mayur Vihar and we were told that only the female students were allowed to attend. Going along with this policy, I addressed a very attentive and responsive bunch of female students.
As soon as I left the auditorium, there was a group of 25-30 boys outside and they came to me with the question “If you’re talking about awareness and educating masses about a problem that is not just a woman’s problem anymore, then how can you leave us out and stop us from gaining knowledge about a natural phenomenon which has become an issue just because of our ignorance?” It was so heart-warming for me to see that the youth today is ready to give each other the respect they deserve.
Right from the manufacturing to its packaging, Heyday is truly an eco-friendly product, where even the end product instead of being sealed in polythene is packed in paper mono cartons in packs of 7 or 14 with the price range of no more than the regular ones available in the market. Currently, these natural sanitary pads are available in HeyDay stores in Delhi, Gurgaon Noida, Mumbai, Kochi, and Bangalore.
Currently, your products are only available in metropolitan cities, do you have any plans of taking it to rural areas?
Right now, we don’t have the bandwidth or financial set up to develop a distribution network all across India. And we plan on going online this week itself, to increase our consumer percentage. As for taking Heyday to the rural areas, my initial concern started with them but when I found that educated metropolitans are unaware of menstrual health, I realized that convincing the rural women will be a much tougher task, as many of them don’t even use sanitary napkins.
But, yes my final goal is to convert more and more women into pad users. So, for the rural women, a much-wider conversation from level zero is needed and eventually, I am planning to come out with something better, cheaper and accessible.
First published on Feb 22, 2018.