The team at Myna Mahila Foundation. (Photogaph: Myna Mahila Foundation)

Can This Mumbai NGO Be A Game Changer For Women Health In India?

The British royal wedding of Prince Harry and Hollywood actress Meghan Markle last month was in the news for more reasons than one. One of these was the couple requesting guests to donate to a select few charities instead of giving them any gifts.

Mumbai-based Myna Mahila Foundationthat makes affordable sanitary pads for underprivileged womenwas one of the seven such non-government organisations, and the only non-British one, which were handpicked by them.

This association can be traced back to a chance meeting between its founder Suhani Jalota and Markle at an award function in New York a couple of years ago. Jalota, who was 21 back then, delivered a talk which impressed the actress enough to reach out to Jalota’s team, and visit Mumbai to meet the team at Myna.

This also led to Jalota and three colleagues receiving a special invite to attend the royal wedding.

Meghan Markle visits Myna’s Govandi office. (Photograph: Myna Mahila Foundation)
Meghan Markle visits Myna’s Govandi office. (Photograph: Myna Mahila Foundation)

For this edition of the Weekend Show, BloombergQuint met the Myna team and spent a day with them selling affordable sanitary pads across slums in Mumbai.

A Bumpy Ride

While Markle’s interest has helped put Myna on the map, it’s not been a bed of roses for the ladies at this NGO located at Mumbai’s suburb of Govandi.

The social stigma attached to sanitary pads, the lack of infrastructure, and awareness about menstrual hygienenot just in rural India but in urban slums as wellhas made their job a lot less easier. “In India, women often compromise on health for their dignity... When we started, we had women who didn’t even know about sanitary pads. So, spreading awareness was the key,” Jalota said.

Only in seven of India’s 36 states and union territories did 90 percent or more women in the 15-24 age group use hygienic protection during menstruation, according to a report by IndiaSpend last year. This lack of awareness also comes in the way of Myna, which goes from door to door across slums in Mumbai to sell affordable pads.

“Sometimes when we visit a new slum, they say that traditionally our women have been using cloth for years and you are spoiling them by supplying them with these pads. They don’t understand the ill effects of using cloth and so we need to educate them about menstrual hygiene,” said Deborah Das, who looks after operations and production at Myna.

Change In Thinking The Key

Myna Mahila Foundation produces sanitary pad packets that cost Rs 40, but are competitive in quality with other products available in the market.

But it’s not about the cost alone. There’s a need for a change in the thought process, said Das. “If you can spend Rs 400 on your clothes each month, why not spend just Rs 40 on sanitary pads?”

While movie stars such as Akshay Kumarwho starred and produced the critically and commercially successful film Padman earlier this year which focussed on women’s hygiene and healthmake a difference to breaking the taboo around the usage of sanitary pads, there’s still a long way to go for complete change. Organisations such as the Myna Mahila Foundation are catalysts in that direction.

Watch the full episode here: