On a recent trip to India I was introduced to Ms. Manjit Kaur Gill who is the Founder and CEO of Binti, which is a charity based in the U.K. (http://binti.co.uk/). This organization's vision is to create a world where all women have menstrual dignity. I was honored to be named their first international male ambassador.
Binti is educating people through main areas of focus:
Improve access to sanitary products for women around the world, either by training them to make their own or by facilitating access to sanitary pads.
Binti has developed a comprehensive menstrual education program available in three languages which covers the biology, emotional, cultural and spiritual aspects of periods.
Binti is advocating for the normalization of menstruation and eliminating the social and cultural stigma and taboos about periods. They do this through effective digital marketing, which has attracted a global audience. Binti online has organically grown to over 20 thousand followers (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter etc.). Currently Binti is doing work in India, Kenya, Swaziland, the U.S. and the U.K.
The first meeting I had with Ms. Gill was arranged by the CEO of Dream Team Management, Dove Deol (http://dreamteammanagement.international/)
Ms. Gill and I met at The Ashok hotel in Delhi, which is where I was staying because I had been invited by Maneesh Media (http://maneeshmedia.com/) to attend the Jewels of Punjab event that was honoring the top 100 global Punjabi personalities.
Among the list of honorees was the 13th Prime Minister of India (Dr. Manmohan Singh), CEO of Mastercard - Ajaypal Singh Banga, actor - Akshay Kumar, CEO of PTC Network - Rajiee M Shinde, Chairman of the Guru Nanak Darbar Gurudwara in Dubai - Surender Singh Kandhari, Canada's first South Asian Olympian and First South Asian UFC fighter - Arjan Singh Bhullar, Canada's First Sikh Billionaire - Erwin Singh Braich, property developer - Daljit Singh Thind, lumber tycoon - Dr. Asa Singh Johal, Best Female Business Icon - Balpreet Kaur Matharu, famous U.S. farmer - Didar Bains, Hong Kong Billionaire - Harinderpal 'Harry' Singh Banga, Father of Fiber Optics - Narinder Kapany, Former Court of Appeal judge and Attorney General for British Columbia - Wally Oppal and Canada's current Defence Minister - Harjit Sajjan.
The event took place on August 14th, 2017, which was the day before India's Independence Day.
Ms. Gill was in India meeting British diplomats and introducing her menstrual education program to the staff of the British High Commission in New Delhi. At the same time Ms Gill was invited to attend the Institute of Directors: Annual Conclave. When I met her she had just returned from a village (part of a high level Indian dignitaries delegation visit) where she had provided her first menstrual education class using Indian sign-language translation for a school catering for deaf children in Gurugram.
Before discussing things with Ms. Gill at The Ashok hotel (http://www.rediff.com/getahead/report/the-iconic-hotel-that-nehru-built-the-ashok-itdc-india-tourism-travel/20161228.htm) I didn't realize how much knowledge I had acquired over the years about menstruation. It was things that I thought most males would know by my age. I had never had such a lengthy discussion about the topic in my 39 years on the planet until that meeting.
"While speaking with Satinder I realized that he did know substantially more about periods than most males I had spoken to about the subject and I believe that this can be attributed to the way he was bought up and the fact that he grew up around many strong women like his mother, grandmother and aunt who did a great job creating empathy" - Manjit Kaur Gill.
After learning some shocking statistics about the lack of access to sanitary pads I felt immediately compelled to do something about it. Up until that moment I had never thought of access to sanitary napkins as being a social crisis. I felt ignorant now knowing that the most basic necessities, like pads, were not even accessible by the majority of women in the world's largest democracy and many other countries. The headline below on a Times of India article says it all:
70% can't afford sanitary napkins reveals study
Ms. Gill had some kind things to say after our meeting but I thought that having basic knowledge about periods and understanding what a women goes through every month of her life from her early adolescent years up until menopause shouldn't be considered an accomplishment or a feat but rather this is knowledge all men and women should have as early as possible in life. It should be taught to boys and girls at an early age in school, properly, not just a cursory run through that is awkwardly done by a gym teacher, as we had in grade school and then never to be discussed again in a formal setting.
What came next in our meeting made me realize how much more work I had yet to do myself. When Ms. Gill gave me a rose to take a picture with for the Binti Rose Pose, she explained to me how important it was to bring love back to menstruation.The #BintiRosePose campaign is designed to walk someone through that process specifically to eliminate the shame. As she explained to me what it all meant, I became uncomfortable and began to giggle like I was a grade school kid again having to take that awkward class about the reproductive system in gym class. It was then that I realized how I had never completely become comfortable with the subject myself.
In this case Ms. Gill, my first 'formal' teacher since gym class. Also she used words that I didn't equate with a rose up until that point. As she was preparing me for the #BintiRosePose that she wanted me to do and I was standing there with my friends, Kaydee and Dove and it felt like we were young kids in class again with awkward silences and smiles denoting our discomfort with the subject matter.
The picture was eventually taken with the iconic Ashok hotel chandeliers in the background and during the photo shoot the cameras were also rolling and my awkwardness was there for me to view and learn from afterwards. While standing there with that rose I realized I needed to educate myself further, first and foremost, before teaching anyone else and that there was so much more work to be done.
As evolved as I thought I was and the knowledge I did have on the subject of periods, I still became uncomfortable at the mention a women's anatomy being compared to a rose, which is actually a very beautiful and perfect comparison. I remember saying that 'after that moment I would never look at a rose the same way again'. This demonstration and part of my reaction was caught on camera here -
In a world so comfortable with blood being shown on screen when it comes with violence on T.V. and in videos games, etc., it is shocking that we are so desensitized in some ways and yet the mere mention of women's body parts, that are the givers of life, still make us so uncomfortable. We are supposed to be so advanced in this day and age and we are in so many ways but why are we as a society still very uncomfortable discussing the very basics of human anatomy? We have hyper-sexualized everything so much instead of normalizing it for what is the beautiful truth. Life comes from women and the period represents life itself and yet there is shame attached to it for the vast majority of women in the world. Why? This needs to change and change immediately!
Where do we start now re-educating ourselves after having learned to treat periods as such a taboo subject for so long? And how do we learn anew about women's bodies for the amazing givers of life that they are rather than objectifying them? And in a world that is so hyper-sexualized how do we begin to start a conversation that will lead to more respect and understanding of women's bodies?
I consider myself to be a very fortunate person having the mother I have and for the way I was raised by her. It wasn't until I got older that I realized that not everyone was so fortunate. I am very grateful, now as an adult, for the discipline I received from my mother and father. The life lessons along the way and hard work my parents made me do growing up, which I found really difficult to cope with when I was younger, are some of the experiences I am most thankful for now as an adult.
I have been fortunate enough to have traveled all over the world and have met people from many walks of life and it has made me realize that to be raised by your hero was not always the case for most kids, in fact rarely so! My mother is my hero and I hope to build upon what she has taught me. And it is in conversations with people like Ms. Gill and others that I realize that I have a ways to go yet still. Life is a constant journey of learning and I am thankful to God for bringing people to me that can teach me about what I need to yet still learn and provide the opportunity for growth.
While it was an honor to be named Binti's first male ambassador, I realize that I needed to learn more myself and that change would have to begin with me. As my friend Kuldeep Dhyani aka Kaydee says, (who was there with me that first day I met Ms. Gill), "the future is now" and that "change begins from within". He is a wise 27 year old and someone I learn from constantly. This blog is my first attempt at educating myself and the public simultaneously about the topic of menstruation. We need to #SmashShame and smash it now!
I hope to work with Binti extensively in the future to bring about change and I implore anyone reading this blog to do the same. First by learning about the subject and then by giving back any way they can, whether it be the knowledge they pass on, their time or monetarily.
When I posted the picture that became my first #BintiRosePose, my friend Sid Sidhu (https://www.facebook.com/SidhuSid) a very evolved and forward thinking individual himself, had some honest commentary as well about the subject. We then discussed it in person and he agreed that more needed to be done and he will be working on upcoming campaigns with Binti as well.
Thankfully there are some things on the horizon that I think will increase awareness to new levels on the Indian subcontinent and beyond and help women all over the world. The movie Padman starring Akshay's Kumar is one of those rays of hope. It is scheduled to be released India's Republic Day (January 26th, 2018). This movie, which was produced by Twinke Khanna (Akshay's wife) is the true story about the amazing social entrepreneur, Arunachalam Murugunatham and the journey that led him to invent a low cost pad making machine that has been implemented in 23 of 29 states in India now. Mr. Muruguatham's plan is to expand the production of this machine to 106 nations.
In 2014, TIME magazine placed Mr. Muruguatham in its list of 100 Most Influential People in the World. In 2016, he was awarded Padma Shri by the Government of India.
Too many school age girls either drop out or miss many classes, when their periods begin. We need to teach these girls about periods, provide pads to them, keep them in school and help these future givers of life and not have them feel ashamed about something that is a natural progression for a female. It is our duty as men and women to fix this situation and fix it NOW!
Below is a video where Akshay Kumar discusses Padman and its filming and the shocking statistics he learned about the use of sanitary pads in India:
Producer of Padman - Twinke Khanna (Akshay Kumar's wife) discusses the movie:
Chinese swimmer Fu Yuanhui was praised for her discussing her period after her relay race at the Olympics in Rio. Here below is that article:
Melinda Gates also praised Yuanhui for challenging taboos about menstruation:
Binti is at the forefront of the issue in India and other countries and was recently named 'Highly Commended' in the Best New Charity category at the U.K.
Charity Times Awards:
Manjit Kaur Gill has over 20 years of business expertise under her belt and has been involved in 7 startups prior to Binti. Her flair for finding opportunities has taken her around the world and she has international experience in the business arena. Her role as a mentor for a business woman in Kenya, with the Cherie Blair Foundation, led her to start this project. Her mission is to create a huge social impact whilst generating a sustainable organisation. As a British Indian, providing menstrual products and education for women in India has become her obsessive compulsive dedication to making a change. https://everylifecounts.ndtv.com/smash-shame-every-girl-deserves-dignity-period-14076
Ms. Gill has dedicated three and half years of her life and much of her own money so far to this initiative because she cannot fathom a woman bleeding with no protection. Below is a list of the accolades she has been given thus far in her life:
- Top 100 Woman Lift effect awards June 2016
- Winner of ‘Woman of the year’ EY Asian Achievers Awards 2016
- Hackathon winner with Femtech P&G London Sept 2016
- Top 50 Social Innovators winner Mumbai Feb 2017
- Women Super Achiever Mumbai Feb 2017
- Finalist British Indian awards Best Charity/community Initiative 2016/2017
- Highly commended Best New Charity Oct 2017 Charity Times Awards
- Highly commended for the Humanitarian Award at the Asian Women of Achievement Awards
- Named one of the top ten most inspirational Sikh women in the U.K. 2016
She has also been profiled in notable publications including
Marie Claire, The Independent, The Metro, The Times of India The Guardian Canary Wharf Magazine and given various interviews that can be viewed below.
Lets all help this woman on her mission to alleviate suffering for millions of woman all around the world. It's our civic duty to do so.
Lets all together - SMASH SHAME. PERIOD!
LinkedIn Binti International