Senior Suhani Jalota was recently selected as one of Glamour magazine’s 2016 College Women of the Year and received $20,000 as its grand prize winner.
Jalota, a Baldwin Scholar, founded the Myna Mahila Foundation to increase accessibility to menstrual hygiene products and public health infrastructure for impoverished women in India. She said she concentrated her efforts on the female hygiene market because most women in Indian slums could not access essential sanitary items.
“I started working more on community building and understanding what is it that really keeps women going,” Jalota said. “If I really want to do more action-based and implementation-based things, then we want to work with these women to create something.”
Jalota said she began with a team of four women and taught them how to apply and use the pads so that they could both utilize them and sell them to other women living in their slum.
During preliminatry discussions with many women living in the slums, Jalota asked what kind of company could hypothetically lead to female empowerment. Jalota said many of the women she spoke with agreed that they wanted a product that they could make and sell to other women, and that filled a gap in the market.
“We want to create a network of young female entrepreneurs that are making these low cost, high quality, everyday and useful products,” Jalota said. “We want to start with menstrual hygiene because it is something that will start to break the stigma.”
In many slums, Jalota explained, menstruation is a “taboo” subject and some women are afraid to speak freely about their bodies.
“We want these women to talk more and more about these issues,” Jalota said. “That is what is actually going to start the conversation about menstrual hygiene, or about sanitation, or even about their own intimate care, or even about domestic violence, sexual assault. All of these things come under the same umbrella of things that women are not talking about at all.”
Although her foundation primarily centers on the production of menstrual pads, she said she sees the foundation as a greater platform for female advancement, particularly in terms of education and freedom of speech.
After being recognized by Glamour magazine for her endeavor, Jalota said she will give the funds and resources provided to her—the grand-prize came with a $20,000 award—to fund her foundation.
“I was actually really glad that finally there is an international organization that is recognizing our work and is recognizing it for the right reasons,” Jalota said.
She plans on working full time with the foundation after graduation for three to four months during the summer. With the funding she received from Glamour, she will seek to expand the Myna Mahila Foundation and buy another machine for production of more menstrual pads.
“Now our biggest challenge is to balance social impact with running our business sustainably,” Jalota explained.