Think It's Just India? Menstrual Taboos Stain The West Too

Pardon the irony, but it's no secret that menstruation is a big secret in India. Not only do women have to find creative ways to hide this 'shame' from men, but the lack of education and information on this issue means that girls starting puberty often do not know why they menstruate. Women of India: be surprised to know that some of these issues are not unique to India -- menstruation is also a taboo in the West.

Sanitary products are taxed in the UK (it's dubbed the "tampon tax") like any luxury item, despite the fact that the government's healthcare service (NHS) provides free contraception and flat-fee medication which is free for the most vulnerable. This is based on the idea that no-one should fall below a certain standard. Yet there is no state provision for even the poorest menstruating women, and homeless women have to rely on charities to meet sanitary needs. The issue is not just at the top, it is deep-rooted in social attitudes -- such as a refusal to discuss this issue -- which then influence policy and taxation.

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Hindu Lawyers Association celebrates Sita's Diwali with Binti Period and Pink Ladoo

The Hindu Lawyers Association broke new ground on 24 November 2016 by celebrating Sita’s Diwali, supporting the interests of women in law and society.

The issue of gender inequality in the legal profession is particularly highlighted by reviewing statistics at entry level whereby over 50% of solicitors are female with a gradual decrease of female representation at each stage of promotion. It is generally considered that statistics do not show the overall picture of a situation however raise a big question as to what needs to be done for women to be promoted to senior management level. This event was organised to open up the conversation on this matter hearing the stories of some of the leading female Hindu lawyers in the profession.

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16th Asian Achievers Awards

It was a gloomy and rainy Friday. But nobody could wet the spirit of 800+ guests who gathered at the prestigious Grosvenor House Hotel in park Lane, to celebrate the glamorous 16th Asian Achievers Awards. Celebrities and guests walked down the red carpet as ushers in fancy attires waited to welcome everybody in. 

The success of the night was underlined with the incredible £180,000 raised for charity partner Indian Ocean Disaster Relief,which was founded in early 2005 following the devastating tsunami on Boxing Day 2004. In its 16 years, the Asian Achievers Awards has helped to raise millions of pounds for various charities it has supported.

Winners of the awards included, Selva Pankaj , CEO Regent Group, a London-based education skills and training development group ; Manjit Gill, CEO Binti, who runs a social enterprise that works tirelessly for women's causes in India and AfricaParalympian, Ryan Raghoo, a long jumper who suffers from cerebral palsy; and Lord Naren Patel KT who was honoured with the Lifetime Achievement Award.

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International Day of The Girl

Today on International Day of the Girl, we celebrate the women and girls who inspire us to be better versions of ourselves. 


There are 1.1 billion girls in the world today brimming with talent and creativity, a powerful force for shaping a world that’s better for everyone. But so often their dreams and potential are stunted by discrimination, violence and lack of equal opportunities.

Today is International Day of the Girl – a UN initiative that aims to highlight the realities of life as a girl across the globe and promote the rights of girls everywhere.

To celebrate a whole day dedicated to making girls and women’s lives better, we asked the Marie Claire team about the female trailblazers who inspire them to be better versions of themselves. Here’s what they said.

Oprah Winfrey. She has built a global brand around spreading her mantra of living your best life, no matter who you are, and is a great example of someone who has the ultimate mix of drive combined with compassion.

Miranda McMinn, Deputy Editor

Malala Yousafzai, for her courage and fearlessness in the pursuit of universal education for girls. She remains stubbornly committed to driving positive change without bitterness despite almost losing her own life just for speaking out.  Truly inspiring.

Andrea Thompson, Features Director

 JK Rowling, for creating the extraordinary world I spent my teens totally immersed in, before redistributing so much of the money she made to charity that she slipped off the billionaire list. Also, for providing a consistently right-on world view about pretty much anything on Twitter.

Lucy Pavia, Entertainment Editor

The late, great Sue Lloyd-Roberts who, throughout her thirty year career as a journalist, reported from some of the world’s most dangerous corners – from Syria to China – to expose human rights abuses. A wonderful storyteller and an utterly fearless woman’s woman.

Tracy Ramsden, Features Editor

Bobbi Brown for believing in herself and starting her own make-up brand with the $5000 USD she had in her bank account. The same billion dollar make-up brand that focusses on giving back to women through charities such as The Pretty Powerful Campaign for Women and Girls, which raises funds to support programs that provide them with education, job skills and work experience. Oh and she managed to do all of this while raising three children.

Natalie Lukaitis, Digital Beauty Editor

 Zianna Oliphant – the nine-year-old #blacklivesmatter activist who gave a powerful speech at a city council meeting (that went viral) about growing up black in North Carolina. 

Sophie Davis, Deputy Head Of Production

 ‘Yeonmi Park, for her courageous work as a human rights activist and for sharing her story about escaping North Korea. Her memoir is one of the most powerful books I have ever read.’

Lucy Abbersteen, Digital Editorial Assistant

Emma Thompson, because she is unashamedly very loud and very outspoken on women’s issues, perfectly summed up when she said: ‘What I feel is that we all need to speak up and a woman who has got a louder voice needs to shout very loudly indeed.’

Holly Rains, Digital Deputy Editor

 Manjit K. Gill, CEO of Binti. For dedicating her life to the game-changing creation of Binti: an empowering social enterprise that dispels the negative myths and taboos around periods in India and Africa, aiming to provide sanitary towels to all girls and women as a basic right.

Jenny Proudfoot, Features Assistant

Erin Pizzey, for setting up the first ever women’s shelter and dedicating her life to protecting vulnerable women even when she was faced with eviction, abuse and arrest.

Georgie Lane-Godfrey, Freelance Writer

 Stella McCartney for sticking to her ethical principles on animal rights in the fashion industry.

Gillian Brett, Acting Digital fashion editor

Katie Piper, for her courage in speaking out and helping others who have suffered burns disfigurements.

Claire Hearn, Chief Sub Editor

 My sister. For being a role model, unbelievably strong and everything a sister should be.

Abbie-Joelle Skliarsky, Beauty Assistant

India: Finding Solutions for Low-Cost Sanitary Protection Products

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While India remains one of the key growth markets for the disposable hygiene industry, the road to success in the market is far from smooth. Widespread poverty, cultural perceptions, the status of women and lack of access to affordable products outside of urban areas are among the factors that continue to impact the use of disposable hygiene products, including sanitary protection.

In response to a dire need for affordable products, a growing number of start-ups in India have been making it their business to provide solutionsto low-cost disposable hygiene products. Jayaashree Industries – a pioneer in manufacturing solutions in low-cost sanitary protection in India – reports that, to date, it has installed 1,300 machines producing sanitaryprotection towels across 27 states in India and seven other countries. A single machine’s minimum capacity is 1,600 towels per day. This represents close to 760 million towels annually in total production at only minimum capacity.

A number of NGOs working in India have been building further on the Jayaashree Industries concept. UK-based Binti is one such NGO. Founded by Manjit K Gill, Binti is working on projects that help to fund and set up micro-factories, run by local women, to manufacture and sell low-costsanitary protection towels in India’s rural areas. The organisation is also assessing the feasibility of establishing similar projects in Africa, where the need for affordable sanitary protection is just as dire.

I spoke to Joshna Raghwani, who has been working with Binti as a Director of Corporate Social Strategy, and discussed the situation with regard to sanitary protection products in India and Binti’s work.

Could you give us some background into Binti and its origins?

Binti was started in 2014 by Manjit K Gill. It is a UK-based social enterprise aiming for a wide outreach to women in developing countries, to provide affordable sanitary protection products, to educate, to improve the position of women, and to overcome taboos around periods.

Geographically speaking, Binti’s current focus is India. The founder, Manjit, has Indian roots and is very familiar with social taboos and cultural inhibitors. She has a good understanding of local culture. We are also looking into the feasibility of establishing similar projects in Africa, for example Kenya.

Education about periods and getting rid of the shame associated with feminine hygiene is important, even in developed countries like the UK. However, the lack of access to hygiene products is also a significant problem in India.

How dire is the situation with regard to access to affordable sanitary protection products in India? Is the need more urgent in rural areas and small towns?

India is a very diverse place, and access to products is also shaped by cultural practices in each city and region. In rural India, cultural inhibitors are strong. When Binti set up its first project in Gurgaon, not far from Delhi, we were faced with strong local attitudes about feminine hygiene and use of sanitary protection. However, the younger generation is typically more open to using sanitary protection.

Access is also dictated by availability and affordability. In India,  most sanitary protection products are still sold through chemists. In rural areas, however, a chemist is different from a chemist found in an urban mall. In rural areas, chemists are more like a general grocery store and many do not carry sanitary protection products. Women have to travel to a bigger city to buy them. Although the situation has been improving, product availability is still a problem. These additional costs of travel also play a role in how accessible the products are to women.

Furthermore, even when products are available in local stores, there are usually very few choices, often limited to the Whisper and Stayfree brands. They might not be terribly expensive, but they are still seen as luxury items. For the most part, in India men are still purchasing sanitaryproducts for women and are not always willing to pay extra.

When did the first machines become available and how fast has the demand grown since?

The idea was spearheaded by Arunachalam Muruganantham, the founder of Jayaashree Industries. He began manufacturing the machines about 10 years ago, and these are now available in 27 states in India. The idea is to make them as efficient and as low cost as possible.

Who are the typical women involved in working on the machines/producing the products and principal users of final products?

A typical woman working on the machine is a housewife. Some women also work on farms. The age range of women operating the machines is quite wide: from women in their mid-20s, just married, sometimes with the first child, to older women. It is a way for many women to earn an income. However, to operate the machines, women still often need to ask for their husband’s permission. Usually women prefer that the machines are installed close to their homes. The projects are often being promoted by word of mouth within the communities women live in, helping to build a wider outreach. Typical end users of the products are young girls. Some have just started their period. They attend a school or a college.

Are the raw materials provided by local suppliers?

Raw materials are primarily locally sourced, and wood pulp is a main component. Binti, however, is in talks with other companies and is assessing the possibility of alternative supplies and ingredients, such as hemp for instance.

How are the final products promoted and distributed? Do the final products come at a cost to women or are they distributed for free, or a combination of both? How much do they cost compared to branded products in stores?

We want local women to run the projects and become more financially independent. So, these projects need to make money, and the products are sold at a cost. However, they are priced lower than leading mainstream brands. The retail price averages about Rs18 to Rs25 for a package of 12 towels. Brands like Whisper retail for about Rs30 and more for the same quantity.

Binti is working to set up a more structured distribution and is working with local chemists. The price, of course, has to be right for the local stores to agree to carry the products.

Binti is also assessing the possibilities of establishing distribution through local schools and colleges using, for instance, vending machines. We are also looking at distribution to hospitals as well as seeking to engage various organisations to purchase products in bulk and then donate them.

Aside from making more affordable products, what other benefits are there to having such machines in place? Increase in female employment, improved incomes, others?

We can definitely see a positive social impact of the projects. Women are becoming more financially independent. Education is also an important aspect of the projects, and this does not only concern girls. Boys and men are becoming more educated about respect for women. There is also a health aspect to it as the projects address the issue of safe hygiene practices, create awareness of menstruation and reproductive systems, and help to address the problem of missed school days due to periods.

What are the main obstacles/challenges to this type of initiative in India?

The challenges vary from bureaucracy to logistics to cultural attitudes. The machines run on electricity, and supply of electricity can be short, lasting 3-4 hours a day and during only certain times of the day. Buying a generator adds to costs. There is also bureaucracy and red tape to overcome while setting up the machines or organising payments. Delivering machines to a specific area can be a problem, with the machines sent to the wrong destinations.  There are also cultural aspects with respect to the use of land as well as the fact that many women still need to ask for a man’s permission to take part in the project.

How do you see the future of these machines? More demand? More challenges or fewer challenges going forward?

We are seeing a lot of innovation around the machines. They are becoming more efficient, thereby reducing the costs of products further. We are seeing innovation with respect to raw materials used. Additionally, other initiatives are starting to evolve around the micro-factories, such as installing burners next to the machines to address the issue of waste disposal. There are also “green” initiatives, which look into making reusable products. There are currently 8-10 manufacturers of the machines. If the distribution continues to rise, then the manufacturers will need to scale up the production to meet the demand.

Thank you Joshna!

Manufacturers operating in the developing markets need to take notice of the initiatives that focus on alternative solutions to providing low-cost hygiene products. Affordability needs to be very much on the agenda. Start-ups and NGOs involved in the projects setting up micro-factories and improving access to the products in rural areas through small local retailers have a good understanding of local needs and challenges. Additionally, sanitary towels manufactured by machines made and installed by Jayaashree Industries retail at a much lower price than the leading brands. The difference is on average 30% and more.

Coupled with the rise of domestic manufacturers that offer economy brands, long-term competitive pressure on key internationals is likely to increase, especially outside of major urban areas. Since the potential for long-term growth and further market penetration lies outside major metropolitan areas, where the demand will be reaching saturation point, the developments in low-cost products are not to be ignored.

Major industry players looking to conquer India’s vast consumer potential need to consider economy brands and ensure expanded access to these through local retailers. Along with education and improved incomes, improved availability of economy products would increase product adoption. As women’s conditions improve, they are likely to gradually trade up to better-quality products, helping drive the long-term industry growth.