#Health and Hygiene

How Aara Health Is Bringing Sensitivity To Women’s Healthcare In India

aara health
In a country where gender stands as an unfortunate barrier to accessing equal and quality healthcare, many women are struggling to live to the optimum. Lower income shares, patriarchal domestic setups, lack of education all play the devil in detracting opportunity from women, even today. Moved by the abject inattention and incomplete solutions in women’s healthcare in India, four young women came together and committed to “bringing the soul back” to the field.

“A lot of feminine health conversations are stigmatised,” Navya Naveli Nanda, co-founder of Aara Health, tells SheThePeople in an interview. “It’s not easy for women to talk about menopause, menstruation, sexual health.” She speaks from experience common to most women, young or old, seeking medical consultation.

“I have visited the gynaecologist with my mother and felt ashamed or awkward to have specific conversations around my body,” Nanda recalls. Which is why, the first bastion to topple to clear the path for better exchange on women’s healthcare is to educate, something she says her company is aiming at.

Aara Health was founded by Nanda, Pragya Saboo, Ahilya Mehta and Mallika Sahney in 2020. The women knew each other from a Design Thinking Hackathon conference they attended, a meeting Mehta describes as “serendipitous” in an interview with SheThePeople. 

“We unanimously agreed on working on healthcare because we were thinking about just how broken the system is for women in India,” she says.

Data presented in a joint study by the Indian Statistical Institute, Prime Minister’s Economic Advisory Council, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS) and Harvard University in 2019 showed that gender discrimination was preventing women from accessing equal healthcare in India. At AIIMS, a public hospital in the national capital, only 37 percent women could access healthcare as against 67 percent of men.

The Aara group asked themselves: “How can we simplify health for the masses?” The Mumbai-based health-tech startup now has growing influence in the digital space, especially on social media where they have built a community of over 40,000 on Instagram. Aside from enabling difficult gender-empowering dialogue, Aara has a slate of “scientifically backed” products for women’s health.

Mehta says the founders find themselves at the receiving end of questions from an age group similar to theirs (20-somethings) most frequently revolving around organic discussions of birth control, polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS), gynaecologist visits and so on. Mental health is another important aspect of the work Aara is doing.

“Even the most privileged women may be dependent on their fathers or husbands to cover their own health costs”: Mehta

“Someone from the community told us how they were being gaslighted and didn’t realise it because they didn’t know the meaning of the word. When you don’t realise what’s happening, it’s hard to even have a conversation. You need a safe space to be able to understand your own self and health,” she says.

“Education is always the biggest building foundation to creating change. It’s so important for us to be educated about our own rights and bodies. That’s something we try to do at Aara,” Nanda adds.

Their digital presence and operations are aided greatly by Google products and offerings that, as per Mehta, are deeply integrated in the journey of AARA Health.

“Prior to establishing our startup, we used Google Forms sent to 350 women respondents to assess the gap in the women’s health market. One year in, tools like Google Analytics remain key for us in gauging audience interests and sustaining a content-driven approach,” she explains. “The Google Meet and Calendar offerings too have been essential for our business in building and maintaining a 50K+ strong community online. Information access is also greatly encouraged through YouTube, where AARA platforms doctors offering expert comment on women’s health issues.”

Aara Health Founders On Redefining Conversations Society Has On Women’s Health

The shroud of uncomfortable silence around health subjects in India begins at an early age and sustains well into adulthood for women. As someone closely involved with the space, Nanda has realised “women don’t necessarily prioritise their healthcare when it comes to a family setting. It’s always the health of the child or of the husband or of the household. I think that stems from the fact that women are used to having their bodies controlled by everyone else but themselves. It’s all about what society thinks women’s bodies should be used for.”

She brings up pregnancy, a milestone every woman capable of childbirth is expected to inevitably reach, that too at a “suitable” age. How many women can claim they have a say in shouldering or not shouldering motherhood? Once the family is involved, as they often are in India, does the body that will bear the pressure of carrying a child be able to command choice over it?

Nanda says this reality “plays a role in how women view their own bodies. It creates a loss of agency,” a vacuum of consent, she says.

She reveals she has faced body image issues, just as how many young girls do. “They are on social media looking at this ideal of beauty that is definitely not attainable and shouldn’t be the benchmark of what one’s body should look like.” Inclusion isn’t still the general norm, she feels.

Take it from someone whose family – grandparents, uncle, aunt – is central to the Bollywood dreamscape that for years has sold fantasies and stereotypes of the perfectly sized woman. “It’s not all the glamour and glitz you see all the time on television screens. It’s more about what everyday women look like.”

In acknowledging privilege, the Aara founders take the necessary step forward in recognising the chasm that lies between how urban and rural women or women from different classes and backgrounds are accessing healthcare. How far does their venture cover the split?

Mehta says their sales numbers in places like Chhattisgarh and Varanasi are indicative that curiosity in women’s healthcare exists across the board, she adds. They have partnered with grassroots organisations for ground-level work, for instance to spread awareness on menstrual hygiene or distribute sanitary pads in less-privileged areas. Their content is available in Hindi and Marathi, besides English, to reach wider audiences.

When we come from a position of privilege, it becomes our duty to use that responsibly,” Nanda says. “It’s as simple as just being more observant, listening and hearing what other people are going through.”


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