These university students are revolutionising women’s menstrual healthcare in Pakistan with an Urdu chatbot

They've created MAI, a chatbot that provides users accurate and factual information about menstruation and sanitary products anonymously.
24 Jun, 2023

I recently had the privilege of visiting Habib University to attend the showcase of capstone projects presented by their graduating class. Of the numerous projects that captured my attention, MAI stood out as the most impressive due to its remarkable focus on addressing menstrual issues faced by women.

MAI is a transformer-based Urdu chatbot that allows users to get accurate and factual information about menstruation and sanitary products anonymously — without any fear of identity theft or invasion of privacy.

To gain a better understanding of the project mechanics and its scope, I spoke to the team — Ayesha Asif Syed, Shafaq Fatima Mughal, Shayan Aamir, and Umema Zehra.

Images: What is the main purpose of the MAI mobile application?

Team MAI: To provide women in Pakistan with access to accurate information about menstrual health and hygiene. It aims to address the stigma and taboo surrounding menstruation, as well as the lack of information and resources available to women.

Images: You talked about social taboo. How does this app help overcome the stigma and taboo surrounding menstrual health?

Team MAI: The app addresses the underprivileged who may not have access to information and those who feel embarrassed or ashamed to ask questions about menstrual health. By offering simple and easy-to-understand answers, the app helps users overcome the complexities and challenges associated with understanding menstrual health.

Images: Let’s talk about the tech side of the app. How did you gather data for this chatbot?

Team MAI: Gathering data was a challenge as there was limited online data in Roman Urdu and no existing Q&A data set specifically focused on menstrual health. We curated the data set ourselves by extracting information from various sources and multiple medical professionals. We collected data from platforms such as Reddit, Hello Clue, and online blogs that contained FAQs and information related to menstruation, translated and transliterated the dataset into Roman Urdu, and got it verified by medical professionals.

Additionally, we received curated data from our supervisor, Jaya Rajwani, who had previously worked as a founding data scientist with Aurat Raaj. The data set was validated with multiple groups of people, including PhDs in biology, doctors at Aga Khan, and Jaya’s sister, who is a paediatrician in the UK. This process ensured the accuracy and relevance of the data set to the social context.

Images: Apart from data, what else was required to build the app?

Team MAI: We had to utilise various libraries and platforms to create a seamless user experience. This involved building the front-end application, establishing a connection with our database, curating and managing datasets, training the model, and deploying it on a cloud server.

Images: What are the core features of the app?

Team MAI: MAI offers several features that cater to the needs of its users. For instance, our app boasts:

Chat feature: Users can engage in a chat with the app to ask questions and receive answers related to menstrual health and hygiene.

FAQs: The app provides a section dedicated to frequently asked questions, addressing common queries about products, hygiene practices, and debunking myths.

YouTube and Facebook Links: The app includes links to relevant YouTube and Facebook pages where users can access additional information, educational videos, and discussions about menstrual health.

Feedback Page: Users have the option to leave feedback, ask more questions, and provide suggestions for improving the app.

Speech-to-text and text-to-speech: Users can verbally ask their questions by clicking on the microphone icon, and the app will automatically convert their speech into written text. Similarly, the text-to-speech feature allows users to tap on responses received in the chat and have them read aloud by the phone system.

Contact Us: The app offers a contact page where users can directly reach out to the app developers for any specific concerns or inquiries.

Images: How is MAI being currently funded?

Team MAI: The project is currently self-financed. As students, self-financing the project has become financially burdensome, making it challenging for us to bear the associated costs. Consequently, we are actively seeking funding opportunities to ensure the successful deployment of the MAI mobile application.

Images: Have you reached out for funding?

Team MAI: Yes, we have reached out to various organisations and stakeholders for funding support. We are delighted to share that, a menstrual product-selling startup, has expressed interest in collaborating with us and exploring potential funding opportunities for our project. We are currently in discussions with them and hope to have a fruitful partnership that will help us deploy and enhance the MAI mobile application.

Images: Could you share any exciting features or enhancements that you plan to add into the app before its launch?

Team MAI: Absolutely! One exciting addition we plan to implement before deploying the app for the public is an SMS feature. This feature will enable users to receive answers to their questions via text messages, ensuring that they can access information even when their internet connection is unreliable or disconnected. It aims to provide a more accessible and convenient means of communication for users who may face connectivity challenges.

Images: What is the timeline for the MAI mobile application launch?

Team MAI: The MAI mobile application has recently been launched on the Google Play Store for beta testing, catering to a select group of testers. Our aspiration is to make the app publicly available by August 2023, contingent upon securing adequate funding to support the deployment and further enhancement of the application.

Images: What’s your vision for MAI?

Team MAI: Our vision for this app is to empower women in Pakistan by providing them with accurate information, break the stigma and taboos surrounding menstruation, address common myths, and foster a positive and informed environment where women can openly discuss and seek assistance regarding their menstrual health.

Ultimately, we envision the MAI app as a valuable tool that contributes to improved menstrual health outcomes, gender equality, and the overall well-being of women in Pakistan.

Images: Is the app is intended to be free for users, allowing them to access all its features without any charges or subscriptions?

Team MAI: Yes, this will be a free-to-use app.

Images: Where can people reach out to you for queries, collaboration opportunities or funding?

Team MAI: You can email us at or connect with us on our official Facebook and YouTube channels.