Binti leads the way in the fight against period poverty and menstrual taboos.
If they can provide soap, they can provide period products, right?
Scotland recently became the first nation to provide free period products for all. This step in the right direction will mean a massive difference to the lives of many women. However, despite this, the issues surrounding period poverty and dignity, period hygiene and menstrual taboos are still very much in existence, and have even been exacerbated during the pandemic. Scotland’s triumph is in a way, a reminder of how far we still have to go in ending period poverty and establishing period dignity. It is also an opportunity to highlight charities that are doing something about it.
Founded in 2014, Binti is the first period charity in the UK, India, Africa and the US. At the charity’s inception, teaching women how to sustainably produce their own pads and facilitating access to reusable, sustainable menstruation products in developing countries was at the heart of their mission. Back then, only 12% of women had access to period products in India. With time, Binti have evolved in their work to meet the varying needs of communities and cultures around the world. For example, Binti’s ‘Franchise Project Lifestyle’ is a system operating in a micro-enterprise environment, that utilises pad production machines to not only facilitate access to pads for a local community, but also to give local women the opportunity to create a source of growing sustainable income, network, promote education and awareness, become empowered, and ultimately make money while improving lives.
Speaking to Binti’s founder, Manjit K. Gill, it became clear why providing educational programmes with long-term goals to dispel stigma and change perceptions around periods is equally as important to the charity as providing menstrual products. In many places, not being able to afford period products is only one part of the equation. The shame that women are subjected too also plays a huge role. The belief that periods are unclean, embarrassing, and a subject that shouldn’t be brought up in public or private, has been etched into the cultural beliefs of many societies for centuries. Ultimately, this has cost many women their education, their health, and their dignity:
“The only thing girls know in India is that periods are ‘dirty’. They don’t know why they bleed or how to take care of themselves. One girl told me that she rolled up a carton with cotton wool and used that to deal with her period. Girls like her will miss important exams, with many dropping out of school.” – Manjit K. Gill MBE
Binti registered as a UK charity from understanding that these issues are an epidemic that affects much of the western world, too. Their work fuels the conversations that even in the 21st century western world, people somehow still struggle to have. Although this topic is more open here, in 2020 Plan International UK found that 49% of girls missed an entire day of school because of their period, and 59% of these girls made up an excuse to not attend school, to avoid discussing it. Gill believes this is fuelled by a lack of education, conversation, and images in the media that reinforce an attitude of secrecy. To combat this, last year Binti worked with the government to roll menstrual products into schools. They have also approached sanitary companies that use blue instead of red ink to advertise the absorbency of their products, to help them understand why they need to alter the way they portray menstruation. Binti’s campaign, ‘Dignity at Work’, also recently succeeded in placing menstrual products in work environments. As Gill very rightly says “If they can provide soap, they can provide period products, right?”. The project also decreases toilet paper consumption, benefiting employees and employers.
Most recently, Binti adapted their ‘Sewing for a Good Cause’ project which creates period bags to assist schools with the distribution of free menstrual products, to create face masks which have been donated to NHS staff, key workers, food banks and vulnerable individuals in light of Covid-19. As the pandemic amplifies the issue, they continue to work twice as hard. Overall, Binti reminds us that being unable to access education about periods and talk about them openly is just as inhumane as not being able to access period products themselves. As Gill says, “teachers can’t teach about periods, unless they’ve eradicated their own shame.” If we are to instil the next generation with a safe space not only to pick up a pack of free tampons, but to also talk and learn about their own bodies, then the challenge begins within ourselves.