Working on period dignity with Singh sabha

Uses biz expertise to tackle the taboo associated with periods, that menstruating women are impure is a myth being perpetuated from generation to generation since centuries.


Despite women breaking the glass ceiling in every sphere, there are places where women are still kept 'isolated' for those 5-7 days.

“It's time to bust these myths and create a world where all women have menstrual dignity,“ says UK-born Sikh girl Manjit Kaur Gill, who has taken an initiative to rope in Sikh religious bodies in the UK to raise the issue of gender inequality in Punjab.

“I am in talks with Shri Guru Singh Sabha and the Sikh Press Association in UK to get this dialogue started at the highest level so that we can tell the sangat what is written about menstruation in Gurbani,“ Manjit told TOI on Wednesday.

Manjit, founder and CEO, Binti International, was in India to deliver a talk on menstruation at the British High Commission. She said she was shocked to learn that Sikh girls were prohibited from performing spiritual rituals in gurdwaras.

Underlining the fact that only 12% of women in India had access to sanitary napkins, she said she was aghast to find during her trips to Punjab and other states that girls were taught that periods were dirty. She said 85% of the girls she spoke to could not explain what the menstrual cycle was. “Some follow local and cultural taboos such as not touching pickle, while others confuse religion with culture and follow the restrictions of menstruation. One girl said I can't enter the temple or perform Kirtan. I have to sleep on a separate bedding on the floor and not touch anything in the kitchen.“

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Gill said many rural women in Punjab still use sand-filled socks during periods as they can't afford sanitary napkins.

A Sikh girl who was born in London but has family in Hoshiarpur, Manjit said she used her Punjabi upbringing combined with her international business expertise to tackle the shame associated with periods by providing innovative ideas across different platforms.

She said she was also in talks with various individuals, including Manika Kaur of Australia based “Kirtan for Causes“, and had plans to provide low-cost sanitary napkins for the girls and women in Punjab and elsewhere. She said that she would be collaborating with the NGO, Sikhs helping Sikhs, to provide these.

Binti focuses on increasing sustainability by hiring local women to produce and sell sanitary towels. Women will be economically independent, empowered and they will create an extra source of sustainable income. Profits will be used to fund Binti bespoke menstruation mindfulness education.

Alongside our production facilities, Binti aims to educate by providing educational programmes with the long term goal of changing perceptions and dispel shame and taboos around periods. Health issues will be discussed and a forum will be provided for women and men to be able to openly discuss periods without any prejudice.

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Period Stigma Affects South Asian Girls In The UK

A YOUNG girl told of “feeling unclean, dirty and impure” as she stood in the shower, sobbing, as she watched blood flow down the drain.

“The water was pure, while I was not,” she said. “I was overwhelmed and even felt slightly guilty for reasons even I do not understand. I only truly felt clean when I would leave the shower, a sense of satisfaction that all the dirty blood had left my body and I was finally clean.”

This young British Asian woman is referring to an aspect of her life that she cannot prevent or ignore, a part of herself that ultimately makes her female – her period.

The stigma and taboo of menstruation exists in cultures all around the world. Shameful, embarrassing, dirty, impure; these are all words that have been used to describe a woman’s menstrual cycle.

Despite sex education in schools, it is starkly evident that stigma, shame and lack of resources are still affecting girls in Britain today.

Binti, a UK-based charity that runs projects in India, Kenya and the UK, aims to smash stigmas surrounding menstruation.

Binti founder and CEO Manjit K Gill founded it after her involvement with the Cherie Blair Foundation five years ago. Working with the foundation as a mentor for a businesswoman in Kenya, she travelled to Nairobi and was shocked to see the conditions women endure while menstruating.

“One girl told me she used a chocolate box, stuffed with cotton wool, as an alternative way of using a sanitary pad. I asked if she was comfortable and she said she didn’t leave the house or go to school,” Gill told Eastern Eye.

Manjit K Gill in a south Asian school

Manjit K Gill in a south Asian school

In India’s Tamil Nadu state, a 12-year old committed suicide after a teacher publicly embarrassed her in front of her classmates, after she bled through her school uniform. The girl jumped off a building near her home, leaving a note saying her teacher had tortured her, officials said.

Only 12 per cent of girls in India have access to sanitary products and 23 per cent end up dropping out of school when they start their periods.

“There is a massive stigma and taboo associated with periods in India,” CEO Gill said, “but what we found while doing work in India is we have this massive chain that exists around menstruation in the UK too.”

Shockingly, Gill is right. Menstruating women and girls tell stories of being “hidden away” while they go through a natural bodily cycle.

“It’s absolutely true that we’ve spoken to many girls who, because of their religion or cultural beliefs, they can’t go to their dad’s funeral or their sister’s wedding. These are all cultural beliefs they’ve taken from Africa and India and brought here,” Gill said.

Binti ambassador Anila Dhami, 26, told Eastern Eye that she has heard stories from British Asian women who have rescheduled once-in-a-lifetime events due to their cycle.

Binti ambassador, Anila Dhami

Binti ambassador, Anila Dhami

“[One woman] basically cancelled her wedding and changed it to another day because she wasn’t allowed into the temple. It goes from not being able to talk about [periods] in the family to it affecting people’s lives. She’d probably been planning her wedding for an entire year and suddenly, you have to rearrange it because you’re on your period,” the journalist and activist said.
Stories such as these may seem alien to those unaware of some cultural and religious traditions, but they aren’t uncommon.

Anecdotes from the girls and women that Binti has worked with follow a pattern – they are discriminated against because of a natural bodily function, something they neither could nor should prevent.

Girls tell stories of being subjected to sleeping on the floor, being unable to hug family members as they are seen as “impure” and even being unable to attend funerals.

Shaamil Sedani, a 30-year-old volunteer has worked with Binti since June 2017. His drive comes from a personal experience when he was 15 and witnessed his aunt’s absence from her husband’s funeral.

“She couldn’t attend because she was menstruating. In Indian tradition, they bring the body to the house for prayers and she wasn’t allowed to be a part of that. How crazy is it that you can’t say goodbye to your husband? I was so angry about that because she had the right to say goodbye to her husband,” he said.

Gill said what she found shocking was that despite the awareness of menstruation in the UK, as compared to places such as India, some girls still see it as dirty and impure.

“If you speak to some of the girls, some of those thoughts are ingrained quite deeply and despite getting the education, they think they won’t go the temple because it doesn’t feel right,” she said.

Dhami, who promotes Binti’s message using her platform as a journalist, said that she feels as Asian communities are so tight-knit, taboos and stigmas can come from cultures that exist in the subcontinent and have been passed down the generations.

“Even with my generation, I have stories of people thinking they’re dying because they’ve got no idea what is happening to them and they don’t feel they can approach their parents because it isn’t something that is spoken about in the south Asian community,” she said.

Salman Farsi, the media and communications officer at East London Mosque said it was the first time he had heard about the stigma surrounding periods.

“I am aware women cannot pray during their period cycle, however, this should not stop them from visiting mosques. Calling anybody on their period ‘dirty’ or treating them any different would, of course, be wrong and unacceptable and clearly not from the Islamic tradition,” he said.

Dipen Rajyaguru, the director for equality and human rights in the Hindu Council, also said there shouldn’t be issues for girls or women who are menstruating.

“There are traditions, but I would say to women who are being stopped from doing certain things, we should not be constrained by customs and traditions that are probably alien anyway to the religion and hundreds or thousands of years old, which have no relevance to modern Hinduism,” he said.

Rajyaguru added that girls need to speak out if they feel they are being discriminated against.

“It’s a power issue over women,” he said, “It’s a woman’s choice at the end of the day. No man can or should be telling a woman what they should or should not be doing.”

Binti, still a relatively new charity, has more than 5,000 followers on Twitter, indicating that the issue is more widespread than most expect.
“[Binti] wants to educate girls. We aren’t saying ‘go to the temple’, but we are saying if you need to speak to God when you’re on your period, guess what? He won’t be mad at you,” Gill said.

“It’s that kind of change that will eradicate the shame for girls and generations to come.”

Binti announced as a Charity Times Awards Finalist “Best new charity.”

Binti International is shortlisted for the Best New Charity. Our vision is to create a world where all women have menstrual dignity. Our services are focused on providing the most economical solution to our users either by setting up projects for women to produce their own pads or running collection and donation drives to ensure there is ample supply. Binti Menstrual Education has been designed for different audiences taking culture and local practices into consideration. It has been rolled out globally and is available in three different languages. Our other area of expertise lies with our Global campaign to #Smashshame which utilises social media to normalise the conversations around periods and eradicate the stigma and taboos that currently exist.

Manjit K Gill CEO Founder said: “To be recognised for the work we do in the UK by such a well respected and esteemed organisation is a wonderful achievement for us. We look forward to meeting the other finalists in the category and thank our volunteers and followers for their continued generosity and support. We cannot not do this valuable work without them.”

The Charity Times Awards continue to be the pre-eminent celebration of best practice in the UK charity and not-for-profit sector. Now in their 18th year, the awards are run by Charity Times Magazine - the leading title for UK non-profit professionals. This year’s winners will be announced at the Charity Times Awards Gala Dinner & Ceremony on 4 October 2017 at the Park Plaza Westminster Bridge, London. The event was attended by over six hundred guests in 2016 and this year is set to be bigger and better than ever.

About the Charity Times Awards: The Charity Times Awards continue to be the pre-eminent celebration of best practice in the UK charity and not-for-profit sector. The awards are free to enter and open to any UK-based registered charity, or international charity with registered UK offices. Now in their 18th year the awards are run by Charity Times Magazine, the leading title for UK non-profit professionals:

www.charitytimes.com/awards @CharityTAwards #CharityTimesAwards

What If Tampon Adverts Were Honest?

Blood isn’t blue. Now, before you look at me confused for stating the obvious. Think, about why nobody sent tampon (and/or sanitary towel) adverts that message. It may sound a silly thing to focus on for some people. Who cares if they show the absorbency of the pads through blue liquid? The blue liquid makes it feel more scientific; like you are at a hospital. Clinical. That’s probably why they do it. So it seems cleaner. But women don’t bleed blue liquid, and each time blue liquid is shown it reminds women that the world is afraid to see their blood. It reminds women that for a lot of people periods are the opposite of being clean. They are dirty and impure.

Read more here

Smash Shame! Every Girl Deserves Dignity. Period

It’s no secret that as women we’re confronted with sexist stereotypes on a daily basis.

Perhaps nowhere is this more evident than in the workplace – and you don’t have to look far to find examples.

And these aren’t our only constraints – even mentioning your period at work is taboo. We’ve all been there – caught unawares at the office with no tampon or pad to hand and forced to request supplies from a female colleague, stuffing the offending item up our sleeve in the hope that no one catches wind of the fact that – God forbid – we’re on our period.

Read more here

Shortlist for British Indian Awards 2017 Announced

Over the past few months, nominations have been flooding in for the fifth annual British Indian Awards, and the finalists have now been shortlisted. Based on a vote by the British public, the awards highlight the valuable role that British Indian businesses and professionals play in the communities and industries they operate in. The Awards seek to reward the entrepreneurial spirit and business acumen embodied by the British Indian community in the country.

The black tie event will be held at The Athena in Leicester on Wednesday the 14th of June.

Binti International, London UK is among the finalists in the Best Charity and Community Initiative category. Binti’s CEO and Founder Manjit K Gill is a finalist for the Indian Spirit in the Community award. The organisation will attend Wednesday’s awards.

Speaking about her nomination, Manjit said: “It’s a tremendous honour to be a finalist again for this prestigious award. It’s a privilege to be recognised for the work that we do and I hope that these awards bring us closer to our vision of creating a world where every woman has menstrual dignity”.

The British Indian Awards recognise and commend the efforts, determination and hard work of the British Indian community and businesses and their significant contributions to a diverse range of industries in Britain.

The glamorous event promises to be the biggest and most unforgettable night in this year’s social calendar. Numerous prestigious accolades will be awarded to the most deserving professionals and establishments in the British Indian community, including categories such as Best in Media, Young Achiever of the Year, Leaders in Finance, Business of the Year and many others.

Irfan Younis, CEO of Oceanic Consulting – the event organisers - said: “We are delighted to see so many people getting involved in The British Indian Awards over the years. We have had a fantastic response from the public and we are looking forward to welcoming and acknowledging the most dedicated and successful British Indian professionals and businesses in a celebration of their tireless work and achievements. We would like to wish all the finalists the best of luck.”

Tampon tax still not scrapped as George Osborne 'goes quiet' on his pledge

George Osborne is facing pressure from campaigners after failing to scrap the tampon tax.

Campaigners claim the Government has “gone quiet” on the matter since announcing the five per cent VAT on sanitary products would be scrapped back in March.

Mr Osborne originally made the pledge to remove the tampon tax last November, but was unable to do so due to regulations applied by the European Commission that prevented member states from removing the tax.

Read more here

Stigma, shame and social isolation: Periods in Swaziland.

Most women can remember their first period. I can: I was staying with my step-grandmother, with my dad and his wife. We went to a pharmacy to buy pads, which were massive and gave me the impression that I could expect to lose a lot of blood – which thankfully, I didn’t. When I got home to my mum, she gave me a big hug and said (slightly tearfully) “You can have a baby now!” I was 11, so this was not exactly comforting, but the intention was good and I was thankful even then that I was able to discuss it with her openly.

Read more here

7 unique challenges homeless women face — and what you can do to help

Uncertainty, struggle and stigma are just some of the threads that knit together the shared experiences of the homeless community.

But for women who are homeless, there are several unique challenges only they know: What it's like to have a period without access to supplies. What it's like to monitor your behavior due to fear of sexual assault. What it's like to be pregnant and not have the services you desperately need.

Read more here