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Project Baala: Breaking the cycle of taboo

When Soumya Dabriwal (BSc Economics, 2016) travelled to Ghana as part of the Warwick in Africa scheme, she saw first-hand the significant challenges faced by the children she taught. And soon found the girls had one more obstacle: their periods.

When Soumya later volunteered in Haryana as part of the Warwick in India programme, she encountered the same issue, but this time with older women. The scale of this problem became apparent: it was global and cross-generational.

Growing up in Delhi, Soumya never encountered these issues herself. Her degree from Warwick had given her a passion for the development sector and once she’d discovered this inequity, she couldn’t ignore it.

I’d gone to teach, but I came back learning one of the most important lessons in my life.”

With the help of her friends, she put together a plan, and the name for the project was suggested by a cleaner who overheard their deliberation in the girls’ bathroom. The woman said that in her village Baala meant girls and from that Project Baala was born. Funding from Warwick’s Lord Rootes Fund provided Soumya with the push and seed money to set about delivering her aims.

Firstly, Soumya wanted to design a product that could be affordable and accessible, as well as sustainable and environmentally friendly. That’s because an estimated 125kg of sanitary waste is generated by a single woman in her menstruating years. The pads she designed for Project Baala now have a reusable cycle of two years.

Secondly, she wanted to improve education and combat the taboos surrounding periods. She drew on the experience of planning lessons while volunteering at Warwick to create fun awareness sessions to educate menstruators of all generations.

Myths and taboos challenged both of these aims. When only five people attended the first session, Soumya realised they needed to involve the communities she wanted to help. This approach was hugely successful. By speaking directly to the community, she discovered some women didn’t want to use the sanitary products because of a circulating myth that if a man spotted the pad drying outside, they would become infertile. This led her to produce the pads in several different colours so their use wasn’t as obvious.

“It became clear to me that there was no effective solution; something had to be done. After all, this is a problem that affects every single human on the planet.”

She also wants to raise awareness among boys and men to lower embarrassment, and has designed a specific curriculum for the trans community.

Initially Soumya started Project Baala alongside a full-time job, but when word started to spread and attendance at the awareness sessions increased, she got daily calls asking where people could access her product. It was then she decided to focus her time fully on Project Baala.

The project has already given more than 5,000 workshops and benefited 500,000 menstruators. The sanitary pads that were made by Soumya at home are now created in a factory and, so far, they’ve distributed 1.5 million.

For Soumya, the most important part of her work is creating real change.

“You can't just give somebody a solution for now and walk away. You just leave a longer-term problem.”

Today, Project Baala runs in Nepal, India, Tanzania, and Ghana. Although Soumya has more businesses in mind, her primary aim is to reach two million women with Project Baala and create those longer-term solutions that will help to eradicate period poverty and champion education.

Soumya knew the importance of data from her Economics degree, and found statistics from studies in India that painted a stark picture:


of girls don’t know what a period is before they get it themselves


of menstruating females use sanitary pads

Nearly 23 million

girls drop out of school annually after starting their periods


of girls faced restrictions during menstruation

Good learning comes with good teaching

By providing support to the teachers in our Warwick in Africa partner schools and contributing to genuine and sustainable change, the programme aims to provide young people in Africa with an enhanced learning experience from which they can build a positive and fulfilling future. This is wholly supported via donations and contributions of time and gifts in kind.

To learn more about how you could be part of the Warwick In Africa Community and make a difference please see our website or contact Ed Rawlings.

Donate to Warwick in Africa

Statistics found:

UNICEF report 2014

National Family Health Survey

NGO Dasra report 2014

2016 study on ‘menstrual hygiene management among adolescent girls in India’