Meet Neha Pawar: Women's Rights and Global Health Advocate

Name: Neha Pawar

Age: 21

Graduation Year: 2018

Major/Minor: Global Health and Reproduction/Molecular and Cellular Biology

Hometown: Rochester, NY


Q: What are you involved in at UConn?

NP: Other than being the President of UConn Heart to Soul in Action, I am the Community Service Chair of the Medical Humanitarian Society and do research at the UConn Health Center on domestic violence exposure/PTSD. I have a small nonprofit company, The Baby Boxers, that helps reduce infant mortality rates in underserved communities. I’m also a facilitator for Community Service Days with the Community Outreach office and am a University STEM Scholar/Honors student!


Q: Your major is so unique. What made you choose it?

NP: I came into UConn as a Physiology and Neurobiology major and was kind of taken aback by how a science about humans could be so dehumanized. People think that the body is a set of organs, and that’s all there is to it–that isn’t true. Our identities and cultural environments influence how we fall sick, how we get better. This major is the result of trying to respect our differences and maximize their advantages–as a pre-healthcare professional, as an Indian American, as a woman, and as a member of an intersecting global community.

Neha volunteering at a women's shelter in India


Q: What are some challenges you’ve encountered regarding public health and women? How do you want to make an impact?

NP: By design, public health is fighting for the common person. It challenges the way you and I receive reproductive health services or the way our friends are confronting mental health problems that they themselves don’t recognize. Our world today has disguised our healthcare inequities so well though that I often hear from people, “But what rights don’t women have?,” or “I can’t get through the week without a drink,” those kinds of things. We’ve normalized deficient healthcare and know-how in the name of personal strength and capitalism, and frankly, that’s not okay. So I would say the biggest way I want to make an impact is to encourage women (and all people) from UConn and all around the globe to constantly analyze and constantly question what society actually does for us and empower themselves. Educate themselves. Fight for themselves. My mom has been my biggest advocate, supporter, and inspiration in this way–she constantly fights the oppressions modern Indian culture enforces on women and spreads strength and awareness about women’s rights and empowerment to everyone around her. Public health is about me, you, and everyone around us so unless we aren’t actively organizing to improve it, it won’t improve.

Neha and her role-model, her mother


Q: Why did you get involved with the organization, Heart to Soul in Action?

NP: I think a lot of people don’t realize the connection that education has to healthcare. Higher education and health literacy is crucial in creating communities that recognize the right to health and invoking leaders within them to fight for it. I’ve seen this happen in the amazing students at UConn and Heart to Soul in Action is my way of harnessing that energy and doing something productive and powerful with it. Students can make a difference.


Q: Can you give us some background on HSA's recent #NoChildBrides campaign event?

NP: Yeah, so the #NoChildBrides campaign is really a testament to UConn HSA’s commitment to understanding the connection between education and healthcare.  The number of girls in India alone who marry before age 10 can fill Gampel Pavilion 1,180 times over. That’s a lot of 5th graders! And, you know, once a little girl gets married her reproductive health suffers, she’s more vulnerable to intimate partner violence, domestic abuse, isolation… not to mention her education suffers as well. In India, red bindis are a symbol of marriage, so our organization uses white bindis to symbolize innocence and purity as an antithesis, and it’s a global awareness campaign that’s really close to my heart.

Neha (right) and other E-board members at Heart to Soul in Action's #NoChildBrides event


Q: What else does HSA have in store for UConn and the community?

NP: Right now we’re working on a project with kids living in low-income housing to create their own mural for a garden we’re building in their community centered around wholesome eating. The kids are super sweet and excited about it–they need role models in their lives, but it’s remarkable how much we’re learning from them. Aside from that, we have initiatives to get medical care out in the community, and we do a lot of awareness campaigns around campus. Join us to get more involved! We meet on Wednesdays at 7 PM in Chem T112.  


Q: What are your goals for the future?

NP: I always tell people that I have a specific career in mind, but I don’t know what it’s called yet. I’d love to leave my mark in the public health arena, but I’m passionate about medicine as well. My future goals dance around opening a women’s clinic, starting a public health centered NGO, med school, teaching… just making people healthy and happy and living in a world where there’s free birth control for all!



All images provided by Neha Pawar.