Suhani Jalota is the only Indian nominee among the three finalists for the Global Citizen Cisco Youth Leadership Award 2020. She is also a Queen’s Young Leader Awardee’s MYNA and has been revolutionising the health condition for rural women in India by producing low-cost, eco-friendly sanitary pads.
It is not a hidden fact that women in rural India are still embarrassed to talk about their feminine health issues such as menstrual hygiene with others, especially when they really need to seek medical attention often leading to loss of life. However, a 24-year-old girl from Mumbai is solving exactly that and consequently revolutionizing women’s healthcare industry.
Brought up in multiple rural cities of Maharashtra, the inclination of Suhani Jalota towards social issues could be rooted back to her early days of teenage. As a teenager, she often visited the nearby slums in her city and was very disturbed to see the state of women in the communities. After visiting a few slums in Mumbai and acknowledging the health conditions of people especially female’s in particular, Suhani realized that too many women were losing their lives because of medical complications due to the lack of awareness and education about health management among people. Poverty was also one major contributing factor.
She personally experienced the appalling conditions that ensue in a public hospital such as horrible conditions of the toilets, termite stricken hospital beds and improper facilitation for women in labour; The conduct was in total contrast to private hospitals like The Apollo, which the impoverished cannot afford. In the process, Suhani also figured that women in the slums don’t use sanitary pads first because of 3 major reasons – First, they cannot afford it. Second, many of them are not allowed to go out and buy pads for themselves and third, they don’t know what a sanitary pad is at all!
Suhani was deeply affected by these problems faced by women in the rural pockets of the country and this inspired her to take the first step in building the Myna Mahila Foundation in 2015 which she co-founded with other local women from the slum. The foundation started with a vision to empower women in a way that would provide them with better healthcare facilities and also enlighten them with health-related issues. After a few months of brainstorming, the team came up with an idea of turning their mission into a tangible product and the organisation soon started making low-cost high-quality sanitary napkins for females in need. “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,” says Suhani. The team also conducts extensive door-to-door surveys about menstrual hygiene awareness, sanitary pad disposal, women’s health and women’s employment.
The award rests heavily on public voting which ends on November 24. Suhani, in her public appeal, said “The Global Citizen prize would help us directly reach 250,000 girls, which is more important than ever during and after this pandemic. We need more scaled-up programs helping millions of girls, which Myna Launchpad, our program for scale, is really equipped to do”.
Myna as a social enterprise has created employment opportunities for thousands of underprivileged women in Mumbai slums, providing them with a steady salary and flexible working hours which are adaptable to their social context. Since 2015, they have directly impacted over 5,00,000 women at their doorstep in some of the most vulnerable slum communities and schools in Mumbai and aim to reach 21 Lakh, women, by 2025. Myna also educates their staff in English, life skills, health, self-defence and computer literacy. They hold workshops, courses and lectures with the women every week and also train some women in business skills to be able to operate a sanitary pad micro-franchise themselves.
Her entrepreneurial journey has been filled with excitement, anxiety, learnings, sweat and so on. Currently, at 24, Suhani Jalota is enrolled as a PhD student in Health Policy and Economics at The Stanford University, USA, striving to make a positive change in people’s lives. Suhani’s, Myna Mahila Foundation was honoured as one of seven charities chosen to benefit from donations marking the wedding of Prince Harry and Ms Meghan Markle. Suhani has also been awarded the Queen’s Young Leader Award by the Queen of England for her impeccable work for women’s health. She is motivated to continue on this journey and inspire other entrepreneurs as well who are looking to start something of their own. Having dealt with challenges such as credibility, funding, putting together a team and gathering community support, the journey has been truly challenging but also worthwhile for her. “It taught me to be adaptable, thick-skinned and to be persistent in every action. Every time ‘Myna’ got knocked down, it gave me a deeper and stronger purpose to make a difference as a whole.