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Thursday, February 22, 2024

Break the Bias-Periods in The Gambia

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March 8th every year is observed International Women’s Day. This year’s theme is “BREAK THE BIAS” which is a call to commit to calling out bias, smashing stereotypes, breaking inequality, and rejecting discrimination.

Binti period, a UK based charity organisation with offices in India, US and The Gambia has been smashing period shame for 8 years around the world. They recently met with the  First Lady of the republic of The Gambia, Fatou Bah Barrow at her office in Banjul.

Manjit K Gill MBE, the chief executive officer and founder of the Binti Period shared with the First Lady some of the areas her organisation has embarked on among them; conducted training for 100 teachers in Region 1 and 2 on menstrual education which will be extended to all seven Regional Education Directorates. She said the organisation’s first training objective was to smash the stigma and shame attached to menstruation in line with this year’s theme for IWD2022. Binti was part of the UK’s Period Taskforce and was leading the way to eradicate period shame whilst normalizing the menstrual conversation so that women do not suffer needlessly with menstrual health issues.

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She also shared with the First Lady Binti’s plan to introduce menstrual pads in The Gambia so that all girls have access. This will further ensure that girls do not drop out of school during puberty and instead finish their education. Manjit is also campaigning globally for the provision of period products to be available in all public places.

Alagie Jawara, the National Assembly member for Lower Badibu Constituency expressed gratitude to the First Lady for giving the organisation the opportunity to meet her for the second time. He said that Binti has embarked on a number of important activities since it arrived in The Gambia in 2018. The most recent of which is an MOU with the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education to deliver and include menstrual health as part of its school curriculum.

Binti has trained 100 teachers in region 1 and 2. During the training the teachers discussed all types of stigma and taboos including those around Polygamy, FGM, sexual grooming and menstrual stigma. Many of these topics hinder the children’s capacity to communicate effectively at home and in society much like around the world. They also discovered that the biological word for Menstruation is not known in both Wolof or Mandinka but, instead due to the shame only code words or language designed not to mention menstruation remains. This situation is very similar around the world where many communities hide away from the menstrual discussion.

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The emphasis of menstrual education and access to period pads was agreed by all and discussing how the taboo affected communities helped in understanding the vital work that Binti provides in The Gambia.

Binti has adopted a lower basic school in Latrikunda Yiringaya. A number of initiatives have been delivered including refurbishing a school library, building a school roof for a kitchen feeding 1500 children. They have donated books to the value of  25, 000 pounds sterling which have been distributed to a number of schools. They also constructed a building at Kerewan Health Centre in the North Bank Region. During Covid-19, Binti donated reusable masks, and hand sanitizing products. They have also donated clothes for men and babies. You will also spot the Binti cars around Banjul which are designed to evoke thought and create conversation around periods whilst dispelling stigma and shame.

Baba S Touray, a representative of the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education, shared with the First Lady the partnership between the organisation and the Ministry of Basic and Secondary Education He thanked both the organisation and the Office of the First Lady on behalf of the Minister and Permanent Secretary of MoBSE.

The four young Binti Ambassadors from St George’s College Weybridge Surrey, UK who are also part of the team as volunteers for the local projects, shared their individual experiences on menstrual education and the importance of understanding puberty at their age and within their school with the First Lady. They were also very inspired by their experience in The Gambia and touched by the impact of their presence in the local schools. The Ambassadors promised to return annually to the country.

First Lady Fatou Bah Barrow thanked the team for visiting her office and promised to continue to support Binti. She applauded them for all the work they have been and continue to do in the country. First Lady said the idea of having reusable period products is welcoming as this will ensure access to period products for many girls and women.

Although menstrual education is not new in The Gambia, there is little discussion about empowering the girls to manage their cycles effectively which is the same in many parts of the world including the UK. For that reason and many others such as; poverty, stigma, shame and lack of access to period pads, millions of girls and women are faced with lots of challenges with menstruation including dropping out of school and knowing what a normal period is.

A recent survey conducted in the UK showed that one in every three girls during the Covid-19 pandemic did not have access to period products. Most people in the UK cannot explain what a period is despite sex education being a part of the curriculum. Binti International as a leader in its field has won many awards for its work around the world and successfully campaigned to bring the discussion into the mainstream. Its most recent project has been the first of its kind in England with Surrey County Council providing free period products to anyone who needs them across 55 of their locations and working towards eradicating menstrual shame and stigma.

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