Pranav Mohan – a mechanical engineering senior to graduate in spring 2019.
Cindy Belardo, Abhishek Yadav and I applied for a grant named Project for Peace (PFP), funded by the Davis Foundation and the University of Oklahoma. PFP is a grant that enables students to carry out a project anywhere in the world with a purpose of creating peace. In return, PFP empowers the students to carry out these independent projects and prepare themselves to become better problem solvers and tackle real world issues that humans are experiencing.
I am a strong believer of women’s rights and advocate for women's empowerment in whichever way I can. While conducting my basic research about various facilities and opportunities Indian women do not have access to, I realized that an immense knowledge discrepancy in education of menstrual hygiene and its management exists. During this time, a single conversation with my mother in India about her menstruation history and problems she faced opened a completely new kind of problem that I had never considered before. I knew that I could not just wait around and watch and wanted to take action. The first discord I experienced was that this is not a problem that I am ever going to experience. Even then, I have been able to internalize the pain women must go through, and this is my quotidian motivation.
Concurrent to learning the problems highlighted, I learned about the menstrual cups from Cindy Belardo (mentioned above). Menstrual cups are a menstrual hygiene management technique that do not absorb the menstrual blood but store it. It can be used for up to 12 hours and a single cup can last for 8-10 years. It is supposed to be much more comfortable than any other alternatives available in the market. To me, it is synchronous to the symbol of freedom.
I had both a problem and a solution, sitting right in my hands, so I decided to exploit my creativity and devise a plan of action where we can visit India. This is where I involved Cindy and Abhishek, and applied for PFP grant. Our plan was to visit India and conduct various seminars on menstruation and menstrual hygiene management techniques with a special focus on menstrual cups, since we consider these to be the most superior alternative available. Our goal was to visit every possible destination such as, villages, urban areas, NGO’s, girls hostel, university hostels, neighbourhoods, etc. To all the women who were interested, we provided the menstrual cup at one-ninth or less of the market price and one-fifth of the price we bought the cups at. The idea is to provide an easy access to a unique menstrual management technique at a very affordable price so that women get to explore a new option. This program is still continuing through hired staff in India.
During the time in India, we reached over 300 women and provided them the information, out of which 138 have taken the cups from us. This number seems negligent initially, however, the menstrual cup is a symbol of women empowerment. It not only expands a horizon of a new possibility but promotes two important mindset changes
- Increases self-awareness and self-confidence since you become proud that you are using something different from everyone around you
- This leads to an opening in perspective. Every woman who starts using menstrual cups and realizes it benefits, becomes more open to sharing her experiences. This breaks the taboo of opening up about menstrual experience – an issue that every society faces to some extent.
A problem women face when using the menstrual cups is that they try for the first time and succumb to fear. This is why we took phone numbers of every person who has taken the cup from us and we will call them regularly on a monthly basis for the coming five months, so that we can address whatever issues women are facing when using the menstrual cups. For each month, we have a different survey these women will have to fill out. Through these surveys, we are not just evaluating the use of menstrual cups, in terms of comfort or ease but also how feasible it is in the environment they are living in and what lifestyle changes menstrual cups have brought about into their life.
A research study as such has never been conducted, especially, with a target audience of India. The program that we are conducting hits two birds with one stone – while we conduct an extensive research survey program using menstrual cups, we are also empowering these women by providing them the apt menstruation and menstrual hygiene knowledge.
Click here learn more about the project.