In a small office space in the east Mumbai suburb of Govandi, a small group of women—most of whom live in one of the city’s many urban slums—are eagerly counting the days to the British royal wedding. Their anticipation stems from the fact that they’re a part of Mumbai-based charity Myna Mahila Foundation, one of the seven organizations that the couple has asked wedding guests to donate to in lieu of gifts.
Founded in 2015 by then 20-year-old Suhani Jalota, the Myna Mahila Foundation aims to educate and empower women in Mumbai’s slums by breaking down the taboos around menstruation. It offers women access to affordable sanitary pads and, perhaps more importantly, accurate information about menstrual cleanliness, at their doorstep. “We’ve really tried to concentrate on using tangible products—in this case, sanitary and maternity napkins—and, with that, help women break the ice around this topic,” says Jalota. “And hopefully that will break the ice around other topics like domestic violence and sexual assault.”
The pads, manufactured and distributed by women from the same communities, reach an estimated 10,000 women across 12 slums in the city. Apart from providing stable employment, the organization also encourages these women to see themselves as entrepreneurs and provides them with training in women’s health, English, mathematics and essential life skills such as self-defense. “It is really about the holistic development of women, and employing local women, while also trying to break taboos within their communities,” says Jalota. “The pad is just a means to do so.”
The royal wedding connection stems from a chance meeting between Meghan Markle and Jalota at the Glamour’s College Women of the Year awards ceremony in New York in 2016, where Jalota was one of the winners. In January 2017, Markle spent two days in Mumbai to see the foundation’s work first-hand, writing about her experience for Time magazine.
“We’re super, super excited and really honoured,” says Jalota. The Myna Mahila Foundation is the only non-UK organization on the list, which includes Crisis, Scotty’s Little Soldiers, StreetGames, Surfers Against Sewage, CHIVA and The Wilderness Foundation UK. “It speaks to how much they value working with small grass-roots organizations that have potential but need support. We hope that this will help us to reach a lot more women. We’re trying to provide a platform for women to speak up and we want many more women to join in.”