How politician Shalini Thackeray is making toilets and menstrual products accessible to women in rural Mumbai

Through her NGO Kalki Foundation, MNS General Secretary Shalini Thackeray is on a mission to ease the lives of women across rural Mumbai.

Founded in 2016 by politician Shalini Thackeray who serves as the General Secretary of the Maharashtra Navnirman Sena (MNS), Kalki Foundation focuses on the health and hygiene of every woman and household.

Shalini Thackeray

Making an impact

Kalki Foundation's first project was building bio-toilets in rural Mumbai, especially in forest areas and undeveloped zones that do not have access to facilities due to judicial issues. It has also set up sanitary napkin vending machines in schools across Mumbai, and followed up with the government to make napkins affordable for women living in rural districts.

So far, the Kalki Foundation has built more than 100 toilets in the western suburbs of Mumbai, including areas in Borivali, Versova, Kandivali, and Dahisar. It has installed 10 in private schools located in Goregaon, Kandivali, and Malad.

The Foundation had also started 12 employment centres in 2016, through which women were recruited for tailoring and embroidery jobs, however due to technical issues, the centres are currently non-functional.

Taking the leap

On what motivated her to start Kalki Foundation, Shalini says that it was an encounter with women in one of Mumbai’s biggest slums that opened her eyes to the harsh reality.

“In 2015, I met a group of around 30-40 women living in the slum, who told me that they had never seen or used an actual toilet in their lives. They shared their agony of being afraid to step out of their houses to answer nature’s call as they were eve-teased and sometimes molested. This experience left me distraught, but also very determined to undertake the cause of women’s health and sanitary needs."

Shalini Thackeray inaugurating a sanitary napkin vending machine

The key to progress

The taboos surrounding menstruation, such as not being allowed to enter the kitchen and places of worship are still prevalent across India. There is also a severe lack of awareness about menstrual hygiene, and sanitary products are often inaccessible. Shalini believes that the need to educate people about safe menstrual hygiene practices is extremely necessary in order to make progress.

"The situation will certainly improve if the government, political parties, and corporates work together towards the empowerment of women. Only a collective effort can help us achieve favourable results," Shalini says.

"People in the political space should demand the inclusion of sanitary napkins under the Essential Commodities Act. Maintaining menstrual hygiene will be impossible for many, unless the law is reworked," she adds.

Wearing multiple hats

Apart from starting the Kalki Foundation, Shalini launched Cinemantra Productions in the year 2012, and has been instrumental in contributing to the Marathi film and theatre industry. One of the notable films made by Cinemantra is Lai Bhaari, which stars actor Riteish Deshmukh.

In 2009, Shalini Thackeray also became the first daughter-in-law of the Thackeray family to make her political debut.