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Lavanya Bahuguna

Blogger-in-Chief

We Found Out How The Creator Of Economic Pads, Suhani Jalota, Is Also Inventing Freedom For Many

  • IWB Post
  •  December 29, 2017

 

Mumbai’s Suhani Jalota was recently in the news after Hollywood star Meghan Markel visited India to talk about women sanitation and education.

Suhani, who’s in her early twenties, took Meghan on a two-day spree making her interact with the underprivileged women who work for her venture Myna Mahila Foundation.

Suhani was still a teenager when the idea hit her. It was during her summer break at the Duke University that she started working towards reforming the public health in Indian slums. Consequently, Myna was founded in 2014.

Suhani Jalota

“The topic of rural sanitation concerns me a lot. During my personal interaction with rural women, I realized how bad the situation is in our country. They told me about the harassment they usually face on their way to public bathrooms. These women inspired me to take the initial step in building Myna,” shared Suhani.

After a rigorous brainstorming session, the team came up with an idea of turning their mission into a tangible product. Soon after, pad-making machines were installed, and a two-day workshop was held to learn all about the process.

“Women in the slums don’t use pads, first because they cannot afford it. Second, many of them are not allowed to go outside and buy pads for themselves. Third and most importantly, they don’t know what a sanitary pad is at all! At Myna, we make pads, sell them and spread health and hygiene awareness. The pads are extremely pocket-friendly and healthy for one’s skin,” explained Suhani.

Once the production started, the women workers used the first lot of pads themselves to check the soaking capacity, see-through concern, and comfort of the product.

As the business grew, Suhani and her team refused to work for the already established Indian companies that approached them for tie-ups. Reason – they use Chinese products for the manufacture of sanitary pads that cause irritation, itching, and other skin infections.

Myna foundation only employs women from the slum areas. From its Operational Manager to Accountant and Production Officers, every employee is a woman who was once not permitted to step outside her home. Suhani told us, “It would have been a task for us to get them to work at Myna had they not known me from our past social and volunteering programs. However, the real challenge appeared when we decided to adopt a door-to-door selling process to spread the word about Myna pads. Two years ago, they used to feel extremely shy talking to strangers. I am glad the young girls in the group took charge and helped the elderly come out of this inhibition.”

Apart from holding dialogues with women about their hygiene, Myna Foundation is also trying to break taboos surrounding menstruation. This includes issues like not letting a menstruating woman enter the kitchen and temple, enjoy food with other family members, etc. Suhani remembered, “We’ve got ourselves into many heated situations where, for example, a Hindu woman tells a Muslim lady not to affect her practice of Rozas while she’s menstruating. I guess things will take time. I think if we ever decide to take this dialogue-initiative aggressively, we will definitely attract more threats.”

Another threat that this empowering group of women faces is by the men ruling the sanitation pad industry. “We supply to many maternity homes and government hospitals. This irks the already established businessmen, who, supposedly and ironically, are not aware of women’s sanitation issues. For us, it’s not a business. It’s a process of educating women about their health.”

Myna Mahila Foundation

During the telephonic conversation, Suhani happened to narrate many emotional yet beautiful stories of how her female workers could transform their lives once they started working together towards this noble mission. “About eight months ago, a girl named Noorjahan was brought to our community. This girl was suffering from an emotional instability because of a painful family condition. She hadn’t taken a bath for many-many days and refused to speak to anyone. When she came to us, all of took turns to talk to her every single day. While some of us began teaching her subjects like English, Mathematics, etc., others took charge of her sanitation. Today, one should see how she communicates with people and is able to do complex account-calculations in a jiffy. She is one of my biggest victories,” shared a smiling Suhani.

Interestingly, Myna Foundation was named after the bird Myna because of its chirpy nature. Suhani enlightened us by explaining how women, through chirping (read: conducting dialogues), can empower one another. Moreover, Myna translates to ‘Maheena’ (month) in Hindi which also means ‘periods.’

We loved how, throughout the conversation, Suhani used ‘we’ instead of ‘I.’ Apparently, she gives credit to her amazing team of women who are, in turn, empowering her. Suhani signed off by saying, “I could never put a title to what I was doing for the needy until these women came into my life. They have given me a direction and a name. Myna belongs to them.”

[Pictures are Suhani’s own]

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