By Daleep Kaur Mann | LONDON |
On February 10th 2019, Binti International, a charity focused on smashing stigma and shame surrounding menstruation, launched a Period Policy at the Khalsa Jatha Sikh Gurdwara, Shepherds Bush, London. This event was the first of its kind worldwide, with the Gurdwara Sahib being the first in the world to talk openly about periods and help to eradicate the stigma surrounding menstruation.
WHY DO WE NEED A POLICY IN PLACE?
Did you know that 1 in 10 girls in the UK cannot afford menstrual products? The Period Policy, created by Manjit K Gill, Founder & CEO of Binti International, in collaboration with the Peter Virdee Foundation, promotes and ensures equality for everyone who visits the Gurdwara, from the regular congregation to first time visitors.
This means providing free menstrual products and menstrual education to the Sikh Community, including open discussions around menstruation to eliminate shame, stigma and taboo.
Globally, and in the UK, we have heard countless stories of women not being allowed to perform religious tasks such as sewa while on their period. The charity collaborated with the Gurdwara to promote awareness that any women of any faith or background can go to the Gurdwara, take a pad and have a free hot meal.
The Sikh community are being encouraged to donate menstrual pads so that all women can have access to free menstrual products. We firmly believe that once we conquer our own community, we can conquer the world.
THE DAY OF THE POLICY LAUNCH
I was part of a group of women volunteers, along with the rest of the Binti team who were from differing religious backgrounds. Dressed in our red suits and red scarves adorning our heads, we were ready to answer any questions about the work of Binti. We set up an informative, colourful stand in the langar hall (open communal area in the Gurdwara where free hot vegetarian meals are served) where congregation usually gathered. There were several branded items on sale to raise money to send pads to Punjab, namely Binti mugs, badges, t-shirts, reusable pads and greetings cards.
Even as we were setting up the stand, passers-by, both women and men, stopped to ask questions about what we were doing. They were very receptive to hearing about Binti’s work and understanding periods in a richer way, along with agreeing that the congregation can do more to support the cause. We also set up a Binti branded backdrop and asked members of the congregation to do the Binti Rose Pose.
Langar (free hot, vegetarian meal) was prepared and served by the usual Sunday congregation, as well as support from some of the Binti volunteers.
Many period-related conversations were shared between both women and men, with a few below. Although there was some pushback leading up to the event, where some of the community still disagrees with the fact that all Sikh Women can do ALL Sewa whilst menstruating, we were very happy to get the support from Khalsa Jatha Sahib. Some of the stories below shared by our Binti volunteering team show that the day was mostly filled with love and positivity.
- A mother and daughter were on a pilgrimage in India when the daughter started her period. The mother was immediately concerned whether her daughter would be allowed to walk all the way up to the Temple whilst menstruating; so she found a nearby phone booth and called a family member asking for advice. The family member said that the daughter should not visit the holy place whilst she is menstruating and that she should stop the pilgrimage and walk back down. The obedient daughter listened to this advice and reluctantly left the pilgrimage.
- A mother shared how she and her family celebrate periods. When a girl in the family starts her period, the mother and aunties present care packages to the girl and celebrate the momentous occasion with joy.
- One man confessed to not knowing anything about periods and was initially avoidant to converse. Once the Binti volunteer started talking about periods in the context of what a mother, wife, sisters and daughters may experience, he felt more open and empathetic. The man was asked how he would feel if a menstruating woman was at the Gurdwara doing Sewa and he had no problem with it.
- Another man in his 30s confessed to only finding out what a Period was last year. Binti believe that this is due to the lack of awareness and information for girls and boys in schools around menstruation.
- A non-Sikh visitor mentioned that when she was a young girl and had her period, she felt like she was in trouble with her mother. The mother and daughter did not talk openly about periods as the family was orthodox and if the daughter ever mentioned it, the conversation would abruptly stop. It is only years later that this woman took a stand and started the conversation to normalise period talk. The visitor shared her frustration at how expensive menstrual products are, given that birth control is freely available, and excitedly purchased a Binti reusable pad, which she will be able to wash and reuse for up to 3 years.
- A man approached the stand with praise, voicing that he supported the cause. When a Binti volunteer broached the subject of preparing and serving food whilst on our periods he said that it should not matter. He viewed the women around him as sisters and said that he would never want to restrict his sister; and so the women in the congregation should be able to carry out religious tasks without judgement.
- One woman who regularly makes and serves food at the Gurdwara shared that a member of the congregation approached her just last week confiding in her that she had just started her period and asked to borrow a pad. Unfortunately, the woman did not have a pad on her and felt bad. “It is about time we have something like this,” she said.
- A group of men approached the stand and felt proud that we chose to launch the Period Policy at their local Gurdwara. One of the gentlemen asked, “So when will all of the other Gurdwara and religious institutes follow suite?”
Overall, these stories are inspiring, and show that despite initial reluctance and maybe even embarrassment to talk about menstruation, people very much support the cause and are aware that the taboo attitude towards period is mainly cultural rather than religious.
Later that day, we gathered the two shopping bags full of donated menstrual pads and made our way to the women’s bathroom to fill a red Binti-branded bin with the pads. Moving forward, the bin will be kept stocked by the Gurdwara congregation. There will be posters in the women’s toilets, stating that menstrual products are freely available here; and how to donate products so that other women can menstruate with dignity.
The day concluded with a religious blessing and a wonderfully inspiring Kirtan (hymns) performance by the amazing Taran Kaur, who supports the Binti campaign. No woman should be restricted by anyone from doing sewa in the Gurdwara while she menstruates.
We also cut our Binti eggless cake, marking the end of a successful Period Policy launch, and another step closer to achieving our mission.
Binti aims to get more Gurdwaras and Temples on board in the UK; with the premise of taking this back to India too. We are already planning to hold menstrual health workshops; and are sending a message out to the congregation to add menstrual products to the list of items that they already donate for ‘langar’.
Together, let’s smash shame.
[Daleep Kaur Mann is a Binti volunteer. They can be reached at Hello@binti.co.uk]
Talking menstrual at gurdwaras (Asia Samachar, 12 Feb 2019)
Menstruation: Ickkk? Not according to Guru Nanak Sahib (Asia Samachar, 16 May 2016)