Empowering and Educating Menstruators in India

  • by Cinestie Olson

While Sunny is well known for the Sunny Cup + Applicator, we also are extremely devoted to encouraging open and educational conversations around periods!

Prior to starting Sunny, our co-founder Cindy Belardo was chosen to work on a grant project in 2018 of her choice. Cindy chose to educate menstruators in India about menstrual cups and period education, with the help of her friend and her partner, Pranav. Keep scrolling to learn about Cindy’s research experience and what menstruation looks like in a different country!

Q: How did your research on menstruation in India begin?

A: This was a grant project in 2018! It was before the business, and it was with my friend, my boyfriend, and myself. Essentially, it was a Davis Foundation’s Project for Peace - which was the theme of the grant. It was to help promote peace in a region by coming up with an idea and making a case on why we wanted to go to that specific region. We chose northern India specifically, which is where my boyfriend was actually going home to. He was familiar with the area and connected with a local NGO who trained about sexual health. We thought they would be a great partner for what we were trying to do! We wanted to share about menstrual cups. I didn’t actually physically go to India - just my boyfriend did. However, I was helping with a lot of the educational pamphlets, brochures, sessions, and other material we were talking about and giving to the NGOs and trainers in northern India.

Q: How long was the research?

A: We won the grant which was $10,000, and were able to spend two months in northern India. We had a plan of educating about menstrual cups and conducting a user research. We were providing a genericl menstrual cup at the time to around 200 volunteers. Our volunteers tried the menstrual cups for the course of 5 months or 5 period cycles. During the user research, our trainers called our volunteers to collect information about their feelings and experiences using a menstrual cup for the first time. 

Q: What was the most surprising thing you learned about your research and education in India?

A: We went into this project thinking we were just going to share about menstrual cups and why they were a better option for sustainability and economics. We hosted sessions at universities and rural areas during our research. Those who attended asked several questions that were more anatomy related. They asked questions that were general - sexual health, periods, and period products. It was not just about menstrual cups at that point. We had to shift our session focus to be menstruation and all period products.

Another big learning lesson I want to call out is the stigma. We learned that there are specific myths and taboos to India and certain regions. However, there are myths and taboos that are very similar to the United States, such as talking to people who don't have periods about periods, talking to your friends, or getting your first period. It was super eye-opening to see how the exact same things that were happening in India, a low income country, were also happening in the U.S., a high income country. We had people sharing personal experiences. It was their first time having a safe space to share about gender-based violence, domestic violence, and other heavy topics as well.

Q: What is the difference in period health between Northern India and the US?

A: What we found was - as the same in the US - pads are the most commonly used period product in India. Tampons aren’t as commonly used in the world, which could be a distinction too that there’s a myth you may “lose your virginity” or your hymen breaks while using tampons. That myth was pretty prevalent, especially in more rural communities and certain families who have those thoughts. In the U.S., tampons are usually more accepted as a period product and understood.

There were some families that saw you as needing to be separated in a different room, or you needed to be in a separate place while on your cycle, like visiting the temple or going to certain events. There was that myth that you are seen as dirty or impure while on your period. That is a myth that exists, and it’s a very real thought of things that may not make sense scientifically, but culturally it’s myths that have been told in that specific region of India. 

Q: Why do you think India and other low income countries have a stigma around period health specifically?

A: I definitely think it comes down to patriarchal societies. It’s just what's accepted as the norm - which is to not talk about those things. We see that stigma in certain families around the world, but especially in more patriarchal societies. That’s why I think those stigmas are so prevalent is because you’re “supposed” to hide your bodies and all bodily functions.

Q: What’s the most important thing you learned about your research about India?

A: My most important takeaway is how I went in with the mindset of “this is the problem and this is the solution” and just talk about menstrual cups and everyone will get it. Coming out of it, however, the families we spoke to had existing solutions already. They used reusable pads, tampons, and other period products. My takeaway was to work with them and find out what their needs were. Their need was actually just education about all things sexual health related. It was important to work with the community and not make assumptions outside of the community. 

Q: What should everyone know about India through your research?

A: People are open to discussing and destigmatizing periods. And we can help create more safe spaces for it. 

To learn more about Cindy’s grant project and research, read AME BLOG, or watch Cindy and Pranav present their research through this Tedx TalkTo support and donate to menstruators in India, check out the Desai Foundation.


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