Queen's Young Leader Awardee Deane de Menezes is on a mission to create a period-positive planet!

Mishkaat Imrani
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Queen's Young Leader Awardee Deane de Menezes is on a mission to create a period-positive planet!

Red Is The New Green is on a mission to reduce the social stigma and economic inequality attached to menstruation through sustainable solutions and has impacted 1,00,000 individuals to date.

Deane De Menezes, who was 22 years old at the time, established this nonprofit organization. While working in her office, she unexpectedly got her period and faced difficulty in asking her colleagues for a sanitary napkin. This experience made her realize about the challenges faced by underprivileged girls born below the poverty line, and how menstruation continues to be a taboo.

"I was so uncomfortable talking openly about it that couldn't even bring myself to ask my colleagues. Later I did manage to go to a pharmacy and got the pads, and came back, but I couldn't stop thinking about why we were still struggling despite having everything. I was very aware of my privilege and mostly enraged that I had the resources to deal with this, but I knew there were girls in nearby slums whose entire day was disrupted because she stained her pad. She might have come back from school and maybe missed out on her education because of that, and this feeling made me start Red Is The New Green", said Deane while talking about how she founded her NGO.

The stars were aligned for Deane as her company, where she was working as a Search Analyst, had asked its employees to come up with social enterprise ideas for a CSR-led event called 'Change The Scene'. Deane took this opportunity and proposed her idea, but she knew this was going to be challenging. " Back in 2017, periods were not openly discussed even in the corporate companies and it was never a part of the mandate of projects to fund. Everything else was there, but menstrual health management, and so I knew my idea won't fit in, and that's why I did a lot of research, proposed it, and my company was very supportive", she added.

Doing it the sustainable way

To cover the aspect of sustainability, she named it 'Red Is The New Green' and made up her mind that her organization will also take care of the environmental impact that the sanitary napkins lead to. " As per the national family health surveys in 10-20, 60% of the women in India use sanitary napkins, which end up in landfills and stay there for hundreds of years or more. It becomes a breeding ground for a lot of infections, and I wanted to tackle it on all fronts", she further told us.

Also Read: Taarini Foundation: An initiative by Artika Singh to empower rural communities by teaching about ‘sustainable menstruation’!

While the project got the green signal to go ahead, the journey to begin the project turned out to be challenging. She tried reaching out to over 20 schools, but none of them were interested. She was told by the male principals that this will influence their girls in a negative way, and hearing this was disheartening. But Deane did not give up, and finally, after a while, she got to know about one convent school in Wadala which was desperate for help.

"The girls in the school were flushing used pads down the drain as there were no bins, and this was clogging the pipes. The municipal vans were not visiting this school as the road was very narrow. And so we managed to get the vending machine and also a waste disposal solution in which the sanitary napkins can be disposed of in a controlled environment, and the residue can be used for composting and for other purposes", she explained.

And since then, Deane and her team have visited many such schools and have impacted the lives of over 1,00,000 individuals via their awareness sessions and installations. In 2018, she was even selected as the youngest recipient from India as a Queen's Young Leader to receive an Award from Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth at Buckingham Palace for her work.

"I first found out about it through a Whatsapp message and I was skeptical so I checked the link and got to know that you don't only get the opportunity to meet the queen and get awarded, but also get a one-year learning module with the University of Cambridge and other development partners helping you a become a better leader, and I found that really interesting as I need to learn more about this field. So, I wrote honestly about what & how I had started, scaled it up, how to manage the team, and learned to delegate better; I applied and completely forgot about it", said Deane.

But after a while, she heard back, gave an interview, and later found out through the news that she was one of the few Indians who were going to represent the county and be a part of this fantastic ceremony. "For the first time, I was exposed to different young people of my age who were from 53 different countries, and it was such an enriching experience to see the world outside from my little bubble", she added. In 2019, Deane was also nominated for Forbes 30 under 30, and it was another feather in her cap.

Amidst the COVID-19 pandemic, Red Is The New Green extended assistance to approximately three hundred thousand individuals by providing menstrual products. The organization collaborated with various self-help groups comprising women workers to distribute locally manufactured pads across multiple cities. With a small team in place, the nonprofit relies on the support of volunteers and community partners.

Deane is currently pursuing her Master's degree in International Development at the Geneva Graduate Institute in Switzerland and focusing her thesis on debunking period myths and exploring their origins. Her vision for the future involves transforming her organization into a comprehensive menstrual health hub, fostering partnerships that offer diverse services while challenging societal taboos surrounding menstruation. "However, my ultimate goal," she emphasized, "is to normalize periods and empower individuals to such an extent that organizations like mine are no longer necessary."

To widen her research and learn more about menstrual health across the world, she also studied at the University of Ghana to understand the various challenges that exist due to menstruation from a West African perspective.

Also Read: The ultimate guide to period essentials: Check out these brands for a seamless experience

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