Founder & CEO
Breaking the Silence
Urmila Chanam is a courageous and visionary health and human rights advocate from India who is implementing a comprehensive effort to change societal norms and to provide factual information around menstruation in order to build a society that makes menstrual hygiene a possibility for millions of women and girls. The challenge before her is immense and pervasive as she is working within deeply ingrained cultural norms and beliefs that menstruating women are untouchable. Statistics show that 70% of mothers in India believe menstruation is impure and only 48% of girls report awareness of menstruation prior to menarche. Building on her personal experience with stereotypes and her society’s gender norms, she set out to create a world where women and girls never have to feel afraid of their bodies, biology, identity, or aspirations
In 2014, Urmila founded Breaking the Silence, an organization aimed at “banishing myths and taboos around menstruation that act as barriers to good health practices in India through dissemination of accurate information on menstruation and its hygienic management.“ By focusing on scientific facts and using a multifaceted approach, Urmila aims to bridge the cultural divide.
Through direct training, training of trainers, and online outreach, Urmila has shared her menstrual hygiene material with at least 9,000 women and girls in India and has reached thousands more who follow her on social media. She has been working to shift the paradigm for a variety of stakeholders with an objective to create a supportive environment for women and girls in every space in society. This has included engagement with a range of individuals and organizations including women’s groups, NGOs, civil society, government agencies, and schools and colleges. Her unique approach reaches beyond an exclusive focus on women, as she has also engaged army and police personnel, village authorities, and other male-dominated segments of society.
In addition to working amidst significant cultural barriers, Urmila has managed incredible success despite physical challenges. India is a vast and diverse country with many remote and underdeveloped areas where access is difficult, conditions dire, and safety for a female activist precarious. She has risked her health and safety to empower women through monumental cultural shifts in India and beyond.