Aruna Revolution is on a mission to empower menstruators to manage periods more sustainably. Keep reading to get to know the passionate founders behind this exciting initiative and learn what drives them in this ecofeminism interview.
An Overview of Ecofeminism and Women in Green Tech
At its simplest, ecofeminism is an ideology and movement that bridges the concepts of feminism and environmentalism. The main idea is that gender equality, social injustice, and environmental issues such as climate change are inextricably linked and related to patriarchal dominance.
Increasing women’s participation in decision-making and positions of power is crucial to change the male-dominated narrative and arrive at a better way of living that views all life as valuable and protects environmental resources instead of relentlessly extracting them.
That’s why it’s heartening to see an increasing number of women in green tech leading the charge for change. You’re about to see what two of these women had to say on these issues during our ecofeminism interview with Aruna’s founders.
Meet Our Founders: Rashmi and Lanna
The thoughtful minds behind Aruna Revolution are Rashmi Prakash and Lanna Last. They come from different yet complementary academic backgrounds, which they credit as a reason they can work together so successfully on tackling sustainable menstruation.
Rashmi, Aruna’s CEO, is an electrical and biomedical engineer who teaches at the University of British Columbia. She has experience in both non-profits related to disabilities and private-sector medical device design.
Lanna is an ecofeminist with a background in English literature and art history. She has spent a lot of time exploring intersectional environmental theory, including the link between women’s health and environmentalism. She is the brains behind Aruna’s marketing and business development, while also advocating for paid period leave in Canada.
Rashmi and Lanna connected during an MBA course on tech entrepreneurship and discovered a shared interest in sustainability, menstrual health, and advocating for people with ovaries. They realized they could combine their expertise in ecofeminism and engineering to tackle the issue of menstrual waste.
What Does Ecofeminism Mean to You?
Rashmi: As an engineer, when I think of ecofeminism, I think about how things are being designed without the consideration of menstruators’ bodies and consideration of the environment. Right now, it’s all about making money and designing things that work for men’s bodies. Even though this may not be done maliciously, it still results in harm to the bodies of women and menstruators. For me, ecofeminism is about bridging this data gap to ensure we do things sustainably and consider everyone and the environment when designing.
Lanna: The way we treat menstruators’ bodies is reflective of the extractive way in which we treat the environment. Amplifying women’s voices is so important. As an ecofeminist would say, we see things from an oppressed perspective, so there are nuances we detect that other people don’t.
One of the examples that I love is the work done by Marxist and ecofeminist Vandana Shiva, who coined the concept of the ‘feminization of poverty’. This concept describes how the colonization of India replaced the cultivation of indigenous crops with non-native plants that created material poverty, relegating women to roles that were not consistent with the culture at that time and creating further oppression. I think this concept is a useful lens for examining what has happened in Canada with Indigenous communities.
Can you describe the goals of Aruna Revolution as briefly as possible?
Lanna: Getting creative to come up with innovative solutions to problems for women’s health and clean tech.
Rashmi: Menstrual products are directly related to menstruators being able to participate in school, work, and other activities. Menstrual products don’t solve all menstrual health problems. This is a complex topic, and there are thousands of other issues that need creative solutions. For now, we’re trying to reduce menstrual waste by creating a compostable solution to add some kindling to the revolution we want to start.
How was the idea for Aruna Revolution born and where are you in the process of bringing your sustainable menstrual pads to market?
Rashmi: We were in the same space [green tech], working on different projects and both were frustrated by menstrual waste. We got to talking and realized maybe we should start working on a more sustainable alternative.
We applied for Canada’s Impact Challenge and won a hundred thousand dollar grant to hire our first employees and start experimenting with materials. We started with mycelium but ended up landing on food and crop waste as a material to contribute to a circular economy.
We applied for phase 2 of the grant and found out we made it through in January 2023. We’ve since relocated from Vancouver to Nova Scotia due to more available opportunities and resources. We’re excited to continue the development process and are aiming to release our product by 2024!
What makes Aruna Revolution different from other sustainable menstrual product start-ups?
Lanna: Even in fem tech, people don’t understand the concept of intersectional feminism because they don’t have the cultural understanding. Rashmi and I are a great match because of her engineering background and my sociocultural background, and together we can do something completely unique and different from what other companies are doing.
As far as I know, we’re the only sustainable menstrual product company that also focuses on ecofeminism. We’re incorporating this into our campaigns to bridge fem tech and clean tech with this ecofeminist perspective.
When the term ecofeminism was coined, the whole point was to spur an ecological revolution. The only way to do so is through people who have been oppressed, including women. This was the inspiration behind our name, Aruna Revolution.
What have some of your experiences and challenges been as women in green tech?
Lanna: I think the number of women in clean tech will keep steadily increasing because we know what it’s like to be exploited and dominated in the same way as nature. Because of this, we have a special insight. Ecofeminism argues that women have an intuitive connection with nature. This is hotly debated since many ecofeminists don’t want to rely on biology to have this connection, but I do believe there is a connection.
One challenge is that although we may see more women in green tech, it doesn’t mean these companies will be funded. In fact, just 1.9% of female-led companies are funded in general. If Rashmi were to replace me with a man, our chances of getting funding would increase by 30%- wild, right?
Rashmi: A lot of solutions meant for us are created by men who are observing problems that they don’t really understand. To solve problems, it must be the stakeholders of the problems solving them ourselves.
It seems hopeful to me because there seem to be a lot more women participating in the development of clean tech. I see parallels to being a woman in engineering. I often find myself having to overexplain or overcompensate just to be taken seriously. As the proportion of women grows in this industry, it’s going to be better for us because we’ll be able to get the same respect and results as men with the same level of participation, without needing to overexplain ourselves or do more to get the same respect.
To what extent do you think that the environmental movement and green tech embrace and represent people from all backgrounds, genders, and ethnicities?
Lanna: It seems to me that fem tech has a better representation of people with diverse backgrounds than green tech. A lot of companies are just clean tech, whereas Aruna straddles both green tech and fem tech, as well as working from an ecofeminist lens.
Everyone has competitors but it doesn’t mean your competition is working on the exact same thing as you. In the clean tech space, there’s still very much of a competitive ‘tech bro’ vibe, while the fem tech space is more open to collaboration, connection, and growth. It’s a beautiful vibe where you’re not feeling threatened by your competitor and they genuinely want you to do well.
Rashmi: There’s an important distinction between fem tech and clean tech. There’s an interesting overlap in which the direction of a lot of fem tech is headed towards clean tech. Diversity could certainly improve in this field, especially when it comes to the representation of Indigenous people in Canada.
There’s also a need for greater gender diversity. There are plenty of cis-gendered women leading companies, but I’m not familiar with any companies led by trans women or trans men. I think their input into these solutions is key, so gender representation needs to be supported to grow.
How can we inspire more young girls and women to work in green technology and related fields?
Lana: We need to educate people on this subject and get rid of the label that feeling and wanting to be connected to your body or nature is ‘woo woo’. It’s normal, and menstruators have been doing it for centuries. We need to recreate the perspective that connecting with nature in a way that’s healthy for you is okay, so that we can move away from these labels or menstrual taboos. We also need to remind the younger generation that there is hope and empower them to do something about issues like climate change.
Rashmi: There are solutions out there, and no one else is going to do it for us. We need more women’s voices in the environmental industry. As a teacher, I see that this generation is hyper aware of issues related to climate change and fem tech and it triggers anxiety and depression. Lana is right, we certainly need to inspire hope in young people and remind them how much impact they can have.
A part of this is taking their ideas and feedback seriously. We’ve had older people in the industry tell us to ‘be realistic’ in response to some of our ideas, which I think is the worst advice you could give someone! We should encourage young people to come up with out-of-the-box ideas and support them to see if they can become reality. We need big changes, and the youth are the ones to achieve them!
I think mentorship is a big part of getting young people into this field as well as communicating with them using the platforms they prefer. Whether that’s Tik Tok or Instagram, we need to meet them where they live. We also need to give them tangible opportunities. It’s tough for young people to break into the industry, so we need to give them opportunities to participate and mentor them along the way.
What laws and rules can be implemented by governments to encourage and support women in green technology?
Rashmi: Obviously, we’re very grateful for receiving this government grant for developing our sustainable menstrual pads, but I think a lot more can and must be done. The government currently undervalues the unpaid labour done by menstruators. There’s no consideration of the value that women add to society by raising children; it’s just taken for granted as something they must do, on top of their home and work responsibilities.
I think the government needs to recognize the value and struggles of having ovaries and support that. Once that value has been understood and internalized, I think it will translate into more funding for women-led companies.
The other thing that would help on the clean tech side, is having younger, more innovative voices in composting. We need more women’s voices to get to a place where menstrual blood is seen not as a dirty thing but as part of a natural process that people have used for centuries to connect with nature. This is where ecofeminism comes in, which needs to be seen as a valid ideology rather than something ‘woo woo’.
Lanna: Aruna’s work encompasses women’s health as well, so our answer might be different than someone who works purely in clean tech. There needs to be more funding for 1) women in clean tech, and then 2) because we straddle fem tech, for women’s health. There is a notable lack of funding in Canada for women’s health.
Education is also hugely important. I do advocacy work for paid period leave, which provides an entry point to talk about what menstruation is, what different types there are, and what kind of recovery is needed for those different types. For example, having period pain with a pathology like endometriosis is different from normal period pain.
This opens the door to discussions around menstrual health. Once that door is open, you can add in sustainability and talk about ecofeminism and other things that may not be making it to policy conversations. Education about menstrual health is important so that non-menstruators can understand the problems and contribute to solutions.
Finally, price and affordably are a huge part of sustainability that governments need to consider. People who live in rural communities without access to clean water are unable to get sustainable products like reusable underwear, pads, and cups. We’re working hard to make sure our menstrual pads are affordable
What role do men and other allies play in advancing gender equity and environmental sustainability? How can we involve them in the eco-feminist movement?
Lanna: Lots of men don’t understand how hard it is for women founders to start a business. We need allies with a willingness to listen and learn with empathy and compassion. We need people to recognize that we can learn together as a community.
Rashmi: We certainly acknowledge that we don’t know everything. Coming from the technical perspective, it’s important that as engineers and people in STEM, we are more inclusive of both people and the environment when designing and developing products. This doesn’t apply just to clean tech or fem tech, but to everything that we design, whether that’s door handles or cars. It’s important to keep talking about this so that people hear it repeatedly and hopefully develop the ability to listen and apply it.
What can we learn about ecological knowledge and practices from traditional and Indigenous cultures around menstruation, especially those created and transmitted by women?
Lanna: I think there’s a lot to be gained from listening and learning from Indigenous cultures here in Canada, especially about how natural materials like moss were historically used to manage periods. What we know about Indigenous menstrual health in Canada has been shared by Moon Time Sisters and Free Periods.
Rashmi: We’re not the right people to speak about their needs, but we are the right people to listen and take what we learn and implement it. The lack of representation of Indigenous people in these fields is a reflection of how the government values Indigenous people right now. It needs to improve.
We need to continue conversing with Indigenous people and understanding their culture around menstruation to make sure we can take that into consideration as we move forward with our company. Also, we acknowledge that we’re developing our menstrual products on Indigenous land, using native plants that were used by them long before they were used by us.
Final Thoughts on Ecofeminism and Women in Green Tech
We hope this ecofeminism interview with Aruna’s founders taught you something new and gave some insight into the motivation behind Aruna Revolution. We encourage you to learn more about ecofeminism and support fem tech and green tech initiatives in your area. In the meantime, sign up for our waitlist to join the revolution and be the first to know when our compostable menstrual pads are available.