How Prachi Kaushik’s Vyomini is targeting two critical needs for rural India: awareness on menstrual health and empowerment of women
On World Menstrual Health Day, we turn the spotlight on this woman entrepreneur whose organisation is doing great things in menstrual hygiene awareness in rural India. Recently, Vyomini started an incubation centre, the first-of-its-kind, which provides training in the making of sanitary napkins.
Kofi Annan, former Secretary-General of the United Nations, once said, “If you empower a woman, you empower a nation.”
Women’s empowerment should be at the root of a nation’s roadmap for development. And who better to understand this today, World Menstrual Health Day, than Prachi Kaushik, Founder of Vyomini for whom ‘Woman first – Prosperity for All’ is a way of life.
After completing her Master’s in Political Science from Delhi University, Prachi worked in various community development programmes of the Delhi government before deciding to take “development for women” in her own hands and start up Vyomini.
So what is Vyomini? It’s a platform for women’s development, but much more.
Prachi elaborates: “When I resigned my government job in 2016, my aim was to empower women entrepreneurs in rural areas as well as increase awareness of menstrual health by reaching the unreached. While I was working with the government, I used to take awareness programmes to the slums. Vyomini, I thought, should contribute to the larger cause and not just provide school children with sanitary pads.”
While the programmes the organisation undertakes are vast and encompass a number of areas, Vyomini works in two definite verticals – reproductive health, and creating rural entrepreneurs.
Engaging women in manufacturing
Prachi explains, “The participation of women in the manufacturing sector is very less, so our goal is to engage women in manufacturing products that are biodegradable, and also sanitation products. These include diapers, sanitary napkins, disposable bags, jute bags, etc.”
This is done with the help of capacity building training and entrepreneurship development training. One such initiative was launched with the support of the MSME Ministry. Vyomini also started an incubation centre, the first-of-its-kind, which provides training in the making of sanitary napkins.
This project was launched last week with 25 women from the states of Jharkhand, Hyderabad, Uttar Pradesh, Bihar, and Haryana.
“Some of the women are marketing the products, some are into manufacturing. We are also reviving dead sanitary making machines. To others, we are providing machines for just Rs 2 lakh, which gives fine-quality pads and are priced only at Rs 1.50. So, we are providing women with 360-degree solutions – where they can procure raw material that is organic based, provide them with machinery or even our help with setting up a centre to do all these,” Prachi says.
So in effect, Vyomini acts as a facilitator by empowering them to pick a business model, providing technical knowledge to those already in business and much more.
When reaching out to women in rural areas, how does Prachi handle regressive mindsets and traditional conditioning that women cannot go out and work? How does she motivate them to become entrepreneurs?
Prachi breaks down the pragmatics of the problem as well as the solution.
If you approach any woman in the rural areas, she states three different reasons as to why she doesn’t want to work. One is connectivity, the second is security, and the third challenge she faces is the lack of right infrastructure. If I can provide them all these, then there’s nothing stopping them from becoming entrepreneurs. So, with the help of the MSME Ministry, we are developing clusters in government buildings, of 12-15 women of self-help groups. Some women have money but don’t know what to do, others do not have money – there are different problems in different areas. We approach the women and tell them how we can make them economically independent given their situation.
The 3As of menstrual health
This brings us to Vyomini’s second vertical – menstrual health and hygiene. The organisation focuses on three aspects – awareness, affordability and accessibility. Awareness programmes include creating health campaigns in villages and training to government officials, and even corporates on menstrual health.
“Vyomini installs sanitary-napkin vending machines in organisations and also sensitises the issue of menstrual health so that companies understand that better menstrual health will increase the overall productivity of employees. We teach yoga asanas that can be helpful to women on their period, the importance of a healthy diet, and lifestyle changes that can help in menstrual health,” Prachi adds.
Vyomini works with a team of trainers and experts. Its revenue comes from manufacturing machines, sale of sanitary pads under the brand name ‘Rakshak’, and training programmes. It manufacturing unit is located in Ghaziabad, Haryana.
The company has been funded with a round of seed funding, crowdfunding, and financial support from NGOs.
Rakshak, which is available on major ecommerce websites, is also available on GeM, the government of India’s portal. Vyomini also manufactures and sells cloth diapers and a sanitation kit for travelling.
The organisation, which is exclusively run by women, had some challenges to deal with.
“Most challenges we have faced are in getting the licences and testing the products. Also, the standard certification of sanitary products in India is very poor, you cannot take it to the international market because it does not reach their standards. We have, however, managed to help set up manufacturing units in Bangladesh and Nepal,” she says.
And Prachi has ambitious plans for the future. She wants to target one lakh villages by 2020.
The sanitary pad industry is a huge one and if we can empower rural women, this is the biggest way to do so by turning them into entrepreneurs and at the same time, helping them understand the importance of menstrual health and hygiene.