From dinner table conversations to global impact: Ira Guha’s fight against period poverty

Ira Guha is among three Indians to win a prestigious award for her work on period poverty. She shares her effort to change women’s lives by providing access to safe personal care products
Bengaluru entrepreneur Ira Guha’s Asan has a buy-one-donate-one programme, wherein for every cup sold, one is given to a woman or girl in rural India.
Bengaluru entrepreneur Ira Guha’s Asan has a buy-one-donate-one programme, wherein for every cup sold, one is given to a woman or girl in rural India.AVIRAL DHAWAN

BENGALURU : As the daughter of graphic designer Sujata Keshavan and renowned writer-historian Ramachandra Guha, Ira Guha grew up surrounded by strong role models in Bengaluru. “My mother had a design business, and having her as an example of taking risks and being a breadwinner was very inspirational to me. As a writer, my father was very public-spirited. Our dinner table conversations were always about society, politics, the environment and how to be eco-friendly,” says the 31-year-old entrepreneur. These conversations deeply influenced Guha’s worldview and in 2017 inspired her to found Asan, a company dedicated to improving the lives of rural women globally by addressing period poverty through eco-friendly reusable menstrual cups.

Earlier this month, Guha was among the three Indian recipients of the prestigious Cartier Women’s Initiative Fellowship, which recognises women entrepreneurs who are solving global challenges and provides them with financial support and access to a network of resources to help scale their impact. “I’ve been working for the last four years on eradicating period poverty in rural India and worldwide. Winning this award is significant because a woman’s period is still a taboo topic. For a woman in India working on period poverty to win such an award brings a lot of visibility to the issue of menstruation and helps normalise it,” shares Guha, who now shuttles between Bengaluru and London.

Guha also won an Innovate UK Unlocking Award recently, with a grant to develop a period-tracking app focused on menstrual health education. Guha’s first encounter with lack of adequate period resources, a widespread issue in India and other parts of the world, occurred when her househelp couldn’t come to work due to severe rashes from poor-quality sanitary pads. “So I gifted her a menstrual cup I had brought back from the UK, and she could comfortably work during her period. She then asked me to bring more for her sisters and nieces, and that’s how the initiative began, growing organically from there. While pursuing my Master’s in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School in Massachusetts, USA, I worked with an engineer to design and patent an easier-to-use menstrual cup based on feedback from these women. The Asan cup has a patented design with a ring for easier removal and is made from medical-grade silicone, the same material used in heart stents,” she shares.

Guha says that over 50,000 women and girls use the Asan cup globally with the company aiming to reach over a million low-income women and girls in the next five years. “Primarily, it is extremely durable. Because of its high-quality design, one cup can last for up to 10 years. Over that period, a woman would spend between `30,000 to `35,000 on sanitary pads, whereas with the cup, it’s `1,800, since it’s a one-time buy,” she shares, adding, “In addition to the reusability factor, we also have a buy-one-donate-one programme. For every cup we sell, we donate one, along with providing menstrual health education.”

Despite the successes, Guha’s journey has not been without its share of challenges. “Behavioural change is the biggest hurdle. Convincing women to switch from disposable pads to reusable cups, and gaining the support of investors, has been challenging,” she notes, adding, “My advice to women entrepreneurs is to speak as loudly and openly as possible. In India, less than 10 per cent of funding goes to women, although some of the most profitable businesses are run by women. We should be vocal about our achievements, and ask openly for what we need.”

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The New Indian Express