__"I want women to be proud of their bodies." __
—Suhani Jalota,21,Duke University
In India,where I grew up,menstruation is considered impure,and even saying the wordperiodis taboo.It's hard to imagine.I wanted to chip away at that stigma,but how do you change something people aren't even willing to talk about?It wasn't until my junior year at Duke that I thought I'd found the answer.I'd gone back to India to do some volunteer work in the slums,and working shoulder to shoulder with other women there,I realized that the solution was to talk about empowerment,not periods.So I launched the Myna Mahila Foundation (a myna is a talkative bird andmahilameans 'woman' in Hindi) to empower and employ poor women in Mumbai.The jobs just happened to be making menstrual pads!Before,many of the women were recycling cloths,rags,and leaves—not very hygienic.I started with four women and trained them to describe how pads work so they could sell them door-to-door.My employees had never been encouraged to speak honestly about their bodies before,and now they're lifting their families out of poverty while they're at it.
When I first pitched Myna to suppliers,many of them laughed.But my father encouraged me,and now,almost a year later,I have 18 women on my staff,we've sold 20,000 pads,and we have 1,200 loyal customers.On difficult days I think of Munmun,one of my employees,who was forced to leave school at 16.Now she's taking management classes and hoping to go to college.She's changed her life.Giving women a sense of ownership of their lives,their futures.There's nothing more powerful than that."
—Jalota,an economics and global health major,has been working to reform public health in Indian slums since she was 15;with her winnings she hopes to expand her start-up,Myna Mahila Foundation,to other countries.
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