December 2019 – “Issues are easier to ignore when we, as a society, never bring them into the spotlight.”
This potent truism doesn’t come from a civil rights leader or social reformer of some previous generation – but from a budding leader helping to shape the next. Anushka Thorat is a senior at Edina High School and the mind behind Stand With Her.
Like most charitable startups, Stand With Her stems from its founder’s personal experiences and convictions. Thorat grew up in India, a country where many of Thorat’s peers do not enjoy access to essentials that young people from privileged circumstances take for granted. Clean water, nutritious meals, and housing are conspicuous toward the top of that list.
Reliable access to hygienic, disposable menstrual products also ranks high. However, unlike hunger and homelessness, female hygiene is something of a taboo subject in Indian society. This added roadblock makes it especially difficult to affect change, says Thorat.
In an effort to lessen that stigma – while also directing funds to those most in need – Thorat co-founded Stand With Her in 2018. A community impact program of the Edina Community Foundation, this grassroots campaign routes donations to the Mumbai-based Myna Mahila Foundation.
Founded in 2015 by a college student with an outlook and dedication similar to Thorat’s, this growing NGO takes its name from a famously talkative starling bird native to India. The implication is that women can do a world of good for other women simply by talking openly and candidly about menstruation.
On the ground, Myna Mahila hires women from urban slums to produce low-cost sanitary products that they can then sell back to their neighborhood at a fraction of the commercial price of tampons and pads. This operation’s model opens the way for honest discussions about menstruation.
This good work can have a salubrious snowballing effect, notes Thorat. “Lack of access to menstrual products is one of the primary reasons that girls miss school,” which in turn prevents them from living up to their full potential as adults.
Thanks in large part to international donations like those provided by Stand With Her, the Myna Mahila Foundation is on track to touch more than 25,000 women per month by the end of 2020.
Realizing that the entrenched stigma and financial obstacles found in India are not alien to Minnesota, Thorat is also doing her part to foster awareness locally.
Under her leadership, Stand With Her partnered with Period.MN to organize the state’s first Period March in October 2019. “This was a statewide rally, among many happening throughout the nation, to bring menstrual equity into the spotlight,” Thorat explained. Specifically, the march aimed to rally support for the suspension of taxes on tampons, and for sanitary products to be readily available in all schools and shelters.
Thorat also champions the cause as a representative of the Minnesota Youth Council, “a legislatively mandated body that advises state government on policy initiatives relating to youth,” she said. The not-for-profit Minnesota Alliance With Youth elected her to this body in fall 2018. She sits as district chair for Minnesota’s 3rd Congressional District, which encompasses most of suburban Hennepin County, including Edina.
“I want … menstrual equity at the forefront of state policy and will next be working with legislators to get a bill about access to menstrual products passed on the state floor.”