Amrutha Garimella & Anushska Thorat

January 2019 - Nearly a third of India’s population – some 363 million people – live below that nation’s poverty line. Edina High School student Anushka Thorat grew up there, painfully aware of the myriad socioeconomic inequalities all around her.

In addition to housing and nutrition challenges, poverty’s most visible hallmarks, millions of women lack access to basic feminine hygiene supplies. One recent estimate indicates that only 6 in 10 Indian women have reliable access to clean, disposable menstrual products.

That ratio is lower still in rural parts of the developing country, where repurposing old saris or bed sheets as sanitary pads is the norm. These alternatives lead to high rates of infection, and even cervical cancer.

This situation is doubly unfortunate, notes Thorat, because it often prevents girls from attending school regularly. India’s girls have markedly higher drop-out rates, and lower literacy rates, than their male peers.

“As a little girl, I felt helpless and didn’t think there was anything I could do about this problem that was staring right at me. But that quickly changed when I moved to America,” Thorat explained.

One day, when talking through her experiences and concerns with her good friend, Amrutha Garimella, the pair came up with an idea. “Amrutha pointed out to me that even students in high school can affect real change on issues they are passionate about, by starting their own organizations,” Thorat recalled.

After diving into research, the teens discovered that this issue is by no means unique to developing countries like India. In America, too, millions of women lack ready access to menstrual products. This was a surprising, not to mention sobering, discovery. “Always having food on the table and being privileged enough to get an education, I naturally assumed … that everyone else here was as lucky as me,” Garimella said.

Girls in underfunded schools and women in homeless and domestic violence shelters are among the groups most affected, Garimella explained. Exacerbating the issue, tampons cannot be purchased through most existing support programs, including WIC and government food stamps.

Consequently, “we co-founded our own nonprofit, naming it Stand With Her as a symbol of solidarity amidst the stigma around menstruation that girls and women all over the globe are prey to,” Thorat added.

Stand With Her is off to a promising start. Fundraisers to date have included a highly successful bake sale at Edina City Hall during a 2018 meeting of the City Council. Publicity efforts have included a leaflet campaign and website, now under development.

Tapping into Edina’s existing tradition of philanthropy, Garimella and Thorat also partnered with the Edina Community Foundation to establish a community impact fund to solicit and manage donations.

Garimella and Thorat’s active and able leadership comes as no surprise to those who know the smart and articulate pair. Both are accomplished members of the Edina Debate Team, and Garimella is also a varsity member of the Edina Speech Team. Thorat is an alumna of Camp Enterprise, a leadership and business seminar for high schoolers sponsored by Rotary Club of Edina and Edina Morningside Rotary Club.

“We are currently aiming to raise at least $2,000, so that we can significantly contribute to the places we are attempting to help,” Thorat said. “Eventually, we hope to make a nationwide impact.”