Priyal Agrawal: Building a 21st-Century Sexual Health Ecosystem in India
Spiffy here! I’ve been talking to entrepreneurs as part of my mission to inspire 1 million kinds to become social entrepreneurs. Today I’m talking to Priyal Agrawal, founder of StandWeSpeak! A sexual health education platform.
Spiffy: What challenge are you addressing?
Priyal: India, even though is a liberal and progressive country, using the word "sex" still brings shame and disgust to many communities. As a country with a population of 1.3 Billion, with the 3rd largest HIV epidemic in the world, where 2 out of 3 women remain unaware of the process when they begin menstruating, and has the world's largest number of child-brides; we still lack access to medically-accurate information, modern contraception, and menstrual hygiene products as well as access to sexual health expert and legal help. On top of that lies the taboo around the subject.
To solve these grave issues, we at StandWeSpeak are building "A 21st-century sexual health ecosystem in India." We harness the power of technology to provide these services to individuals of all age groups to help them develop social and sexual relationships based on respect and make responsible choices throughout their lives.
Spiffy: What motivated you to do this work?
Priyal: Working in Tihar Jail as a psychological first-aid provider, provided me an opportunity to understand the mindset of the perpetrators of sexual abuse and assault. We often believe that “these people” come from low socio-economic backgrounds or aren’t educated enough, but in reality, that isn’t the case. Even the rich, the young, and the educated ones commit these crimes.
Spiffy: Ohhh, that totally goes against the common logic!
Priyal: Exactly, it helped me understand that these crimes are the violent expressions of a lack of sex and value education. The problem was deeper than we think, I realized. Punishing the criminals won’t kill the crime. The change was needed in the mindset of people, their perception, and their attitude towards gender, sex, and sexuality.
Just like how the stability of a house is dependent upon every brick being placed properly, as humans, we are molded at every stage by the notions that surround us from childhood. So, it was about time to replace heteronormative, patriarchal, misogynistic, stigmatized, and sexually-repressive ideas with sex-positive, gender-equal, judgment-free, and rights-based ones.
Such incidents and beliefs motivated me to "Take a stand alone, but to take a stand for thousands," and come up with a holistic solution and start an initiative that gave rise to StandWeSpeak.
Priyal teaches a class on sexual health. (Image courtesy of Priyal Agrawal)
Spiffy: The house is a very vivid image, what are you doing to make the world a more equitable place?
Priyal: We harness the power of technology to provide individuals of all age groups with accurate and age-appropriate information, easy access to affordable menstrual hygiene and sexual health products, and judgment-free consultancy with gynecologists and counselors to help them develop social and sexual relationships based on respect and make responsible choices in their future. We are also developing an AI-based chatbot to provide anonymous and confidential information to everyone.
Spiffy: What’s a milestone you’ve reached recently?
Priyal: In order to make people feel comfortable while talking about their periods and challenge the shame that is associated with it, we conducted a campaign recently wherein we asked people to share a message that they would like the young boys to know about menstruation. The number of responses we received was huge.
This was done to educate young boys about menstruation, gain their support, and help normalize the discussion as they grow up.
Spiffy: Congratulations on the success! What’s a time you’ve faced failure and overcome it?
Priyal: Personally, I don't consider any event of my life as a failure because I believe it's an achievement in itself when you try something new and it doesn't work out. Firstly, because you gathered all the courage to actually do something new. Second, even if you hit a dead-end, you had a unique experience. Lastly, it helps you take a detour and brings you a step closer to your actual goal.
Spiffy: Of course, what’s something you’ve learned unexpectedly from someone?
Priyal: While I was spending time with my 7-year-old niece trying to answer her millions of questions about the stars and the universe a couple of days ago, I noticed how unapologetic and unembarrassed she was about it. That made me realize how as we grow up we are so afraid to ask questions because we expect ourselves to know-it-all. And as adults, it severely cripples our growth. We forget that learning never stops, no matter how old and wise we become. Through that experience, I learned to always stay curious and inquisitive.
Priyal Agrawal is passionate about ensuring that young people have access to information and sexual health services required to gain complete control over their bodies and lives. Devoted entirely to bringing a paradigm shift in the mindset of people and the way children receive sex education around the globe, Priyal founded StandWeSpeak with a vision to promote social and gender equality and create a positive systematic change in society. (Nominated by Action Accelerator).