Why this veteran journalist decided to focus on menstrual hygiene and feminine care

SheWings Foundation is working to educate women and men on menstrual health and hygiene. It aims to normalise periods and end stigmas around menstruation via educational videos and workshops, and by donating biodegradable menstrual hygiene products to women every month.
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As a veteran journalist, Madan Mohit Bharadwaj often visited different remote parts of India. 

During one such visit, he met a person in his early 40s who had just lost his wife. On probing a little, Madan found that the woman passed away due to an infection from a rusted hook after she used a blouse instead of a menstrual pad during her periods. Improper sanitation and lack of awareness turned the infection fatal. 

“I don't know whether it was the man's sad face, his helplessness, or the sheer emotion of not being able to do anything, but I was moved. So much so that I gave up a well-paying job and settled life to start SheWings Foundation,” he says. 

The team on ground

What it does

SheWings Foundation focuses on educating women and men on menstrual health and hygiene, and aims to end period poverty. The organisation aims to normalise periods and end the taboos/stigmas around menstruation. It does this by showcasing educational videos, conducting workshops, and donating biodegradable menstrual hygiene products to women every month. 

The Delhi-NCR-based Foundation has given birth to a startup named SheWings which is into manufacturing of female health and Hygiene products . Products has got unique feature like disposable bag,red dot,Plastic free packaging . It has a B2B business model and has partnered with corporates and institutions. It has also joined hands with Crowne Plaza GN to provide menstrual hygiene pads .

It has provided menstrual hygiene products in hotels washroom as essential. Crown plaza GN is the first hotel to come up with such essential in their suits as basic need. When you purchase one products, 15 percent of the profit goes to SheWings foundation.    

“So far there have only been grooming kits for men at hotels, but there is nothing on menstrual hygiene, we want to change that,” says Madan. These are biodegradable pads, and are also building a range of products like vaginal moisturisers, wipes, and breast pads. 

The work and challenges 

SheWings Foundation has adopted seven villages and government schools where it makes regular visits and has organised “innumerable camps and workshops”. The volunteer team is always assisted by a doctor who delves deeply into the topic of menstrual health and hygiene management. 

The foundation, which was started in 2014 and registered in 2017, has faced challenges, including changing mindsets. This is one of the main barriers as people are not openly talking about menstruation due to the myths around it. Women in a developing country like India feel a strong need to hide sanitary pads, fearing judgment.

Accessibility Women residing in rural areas do not have access to shops that stock sanitary products. 

Price All available products are targeted at premium segments, making it unaffordable for women below the poverty line to buy them.

How did the foundation work its way around these challenges? The idea was to focus on educating men and women through interactive videos, street plays, games, etc.

“We have also creatively designed the cover of our sanitary product, which has instructions in English and Hindi. Our sanitary pads are biodegradable, chemical, and bleach-free ensuring a safe period,” Madan says.

The team wants to adopt more villages to help change the mindsets of the people. They want to provide sanitary products every month, and educate villagers about proper usage, importance, disposal techniques, and why “it’s not something to hide”. 

“We plan to organise more camps and conclaves to spread awareness about women's health and hygiene management (MHM). We have doctors and gynaecologists who accompany us to these camp; they lead seminars to educate homeless people. We also organise conclaves where we invite government beneficiaries, policymakers, and influential people who help us to reach more people so we can get together and combat this issue,” Madan says. 

Madan with a police officer on ground

Doing their bit 

SheWings Foundation was hit by the pandemic like every other initiative. Amid the second wave, the team decided to help more than 1,500 families with oxygen concentrators and medical supplies like hand gloves, sanitisers, PPE kits, Remdesivir medicine etc. 

"We reached out to almost 10,000 individuals so far. We've created a 'War Room'; currently around 200 warriors are working tirelessly day and night to help people in need. It's challenging, we are short of funds, but that won't take away our spirit. We'll continue to reach out to people in need, be it COVID or otherwise. That's the motto of SheWings,” Madan says. 

Madan roped in his core team through friends and colleagues. The team includes Abhijeet Dam -Former Chief General Manager , Oil India Limited, Shivendra Pandey, an experienced journalist and aspiring entrepreneur; Nandita Dhar, who has a design background and is Chief Strategy Officer at SheWings Foundation; Garima Bhandar, a former yoga mentor on TV Today Group; Ankita Sharma, a National Law School Jodhpur Graduate; Prof Dr VK Gupta, an IIM Indore Mentor; along with Shivani Manchanda, Vidhi Jain, Rajeev Gupta, Geet Bharadwaj, and Mohit Malik.

“Initially, we were doing our jobs and working on these initiatives, but we realised that we had to make it a full-time affair. Maneka Gandhi launched the first initiative in India; she was the *WCD Minister in Union Government. After that, our team started working 24/7 and we built a system where we have a family of 30 lakh people, across the country,” Madan says. 

What comes next?

SheWings Foundation has organised campaigns like #YesIBleed, #RedDotCampaign, and #donateoldbrapanty campaign, which became huge successes globally. Their work has been appreciated by many people, including former minister Maneka Gandhi, Minister of State for Health and Family Welfare Ashwini Chaubey, Nobel Laureate Kailash Satyarthi, NCW Chairperson Rekha Sharma, Bollywood actors like Raveena Tandon, Divya Dutta, Amrita Rao, Nawazuddin Siddiqui, among others. 

It has also conducted many conclaves with policy experts, bureaucrats, politicians, and celebrities in attendance.  

The foundation is now focusing on initiating a vaccination drive at a mass level by setting up separate vaccination drives for women, children, and senior citizens from underprivileged sections of society. This will directly benefit individuals and families from below poverty line, homeless, labour class, domestic helpers, local service providers, etc.

“With the help of our 30-member IT team, we will get them registered and book slots for them as they find this tough. Our team will be available through the process. When the government makes vaccination available against sponsorships, we will sponsor their inoculation,” Madan says.
Edited by Teja Lele