The first step in smashing shame is to have a conversation.
Manjit Gill is a woman on a mission. A shocking discovery in 2013 has led her on a tireless quest: to make a difference to women around the world and change the global view on menstruation. Two years ago Manjit was mentoring a young woman in Nairobi through Cherie Blair’s Foundation, which supports women in business. The weekly conversations covered many topics and the two bonded, and found they had much in common, despite cultural differences. One of their discussions brought Manjit to the realisation that many women in Kenya do not have access to sanitary towels.
This revelation shocked Manjit to the core and she felt compelled to learn more. She soon discovered that lack of access to menstrual hygiene products is an issue for vast numbers of women in economically developing nations.
Manjit aims to tackle this issue through Binti, using a multi-sectoral approach:
Myths and Re-Education
In India, ancient customs that existed to protect women’s health during menstruation have been manipulated by patriarchal culture as a way of subjugating women. Women are told they must not touch food or crops during menstruation or they will ‘spoil’. Binti seeks to re-educate both men and women on the origins of these customs, thereby transforming disadvantageous customs surrounding menstruation.
Health and Hygiene
Without access to sanitary napkins women turn to alternatives such as dung, sand or old rags which can cause infection. 70% of reproductive diseases in India are caused due to poor menstrual health management. Binti aims to resolve this by improving accessibility and affordability of sanitary products, by supporting the local communities to produce sanitary products.
Gender Equality
23% of girls in India drop out of school when they start menstruating due to social attitudes and accessibility of sanitary products. Binti works with both males and females to create awareness about menstruation. In doing so, Binti seeks to engage society to stop menstruation becoming a hindrance to women’s empowerment.
Mental Health
Fluctuating hormones during the monthly cycle can lead to low mood and depression. In addition to this, lack of knowledge means that many girls don’t know what is happening to them when their period arrives. Some think they are dying. Binti targets young girls as part of its education programme to create awareness among a generation and improve mental and emotional wellbeing.
Nutrition
The loss of blood every month can impact iron levels so girls need to be aware of iron rich foods such as spinach.  Binti’s inclusive approach means appropriate nutritional advice is given to parents of menstruating young girls.
Numbers
With women making up roughly half the world’s population, it is staggering that this every day natural occurrence has been silenced for so long. Binti sits at the heart of a growing menstruation movement, working to smash the shame and end the silence.
As a British Indian Manjit is well aware of the hurdles that need to be overcome. Periods were not discussed when she was growing up and she still feels the weight of cultural taboo associated with menstruation. During a recent visit to India she had to buy sanitary towels and found stigma attached to this simple purchase , which was wrapped in black plastic so no one would know. Women have long been conditioned to keep quiet about menstruation, both in the East and West, but Manjit firmly believes that talking about periods is the key to making a difference. Join her and start a conversation about menstruation today.
Samantha Johnson
Corporate Communications Director

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