* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.
'We must never relinquish the vision of a humane society and a humane world' - Kjell Magne Bondevik
Humans have historically suffered many forms of oppression from others and still do. Perhaps one of the most appalling aspects of oppression or poverty is that it dehumanizes a person. It labels them as somehow less than human and therefore perhaps not deserving of human respect or humane treatment. We think of the Nazis and their concept of 'untermenschen'. Untermenschen meant literally sub man - sub human and was applied to Jewish, Roma, Slavic people and others.
We know only too sadly where these labels led. We also have in the American civil rights movement of the 1960's those pictures of black men holding a placard saying 'I am a Man'. The phrase has a long history. It was used in the anti slavery movement in England in the 18th century and was a response to the pejorative word 'boy' used to address black men. 'I am a Man' was a cry for humanity and to be recognised as equal and of intrinsic dignity. Some of us may remember the film 'The Elephant Man- where the gentle John Merrick says with such depth and meaning, 'I am not an animal. I am a human being. I am a man.' The call to humanhood is the call to dignity.
I was recently introduced by my good friend Glenys Marriott
(@cumpstonarchive) to Binti. Binti is an amazing organisation found by Manjit Gill. Binti means 'young lady' in Swahili and 'daughter' in Arabic. Binti promotes menstrual dignity for women through 'access to sanitary protection and education...Menstruation is a significant cause of gender inequality in low income countries. Many girls and women on their period are unable to engage fully in their daily activities, like attending school or work, due to poor sanitation, lack of sanitary protection as well as stigma associated with menstruation.' ( from binti.co.uk ). Binti works in countries like India and Swazilnd. They have recently started working with homeless women in London. Newspaper reports have mentioned that homeless women are using newspapers as sanitary protection. Recently Manjit visited Leeds to meet a group of us united to see how we can support this vital work. These good souls in the group included people from the local authority, NHS, third sector and faith communities. Interesting and exciting ideas are unfolding. On the Leeds visit I was proudly photographed with the Binti rose - the Binti symbol. This was to express my support and stand with these women working for such positive change.
When I ask myself why I have decided to support Binti there are three reasons that come to mind immediately. The first is dignity. Perhaps this is a movement whose placard would read 'I am a Woman - I deserve dignity'. Working with Binti showed me how sanitary care is interlinked with self care and self worth. If we really want to value and support women we have to promote quality sanitary care. No or poor sanitary care dehumanizes. This a movement for dignity. Everyone of us needs to have our dignity and value recognised. None of us are untermenschen - we are all of great indeed infinite value. The second reason is that Binti combats poverty and promotes health and wellbeing. We live in a world and indeed country with appalling levels of inequality. Binti exists to work on the ground with women on this simple but very real need.
The last reason is that Binti is real. It is not a hashtag phenomena. This is real change here and now on the ground. Hashtags are of use but they will never change the world. Neither will conferences nor paper policies. They have value. I may be wrong but what working with homeless people and people in the asylum system and working with staff has shown me is one thing. It is what we do on the ground that matters. Its the experience we all can create that builds the future or not. Binti is doing that work - where woman are - reaching out to support and equip communities and teach and learn. I have been especially touched by the humility and openness and kind spirit I have seen in this work. That dignity is promoted by these qualities is not surprising but so lovely and refreshing to behold.
So here I am - a man supporting Binti and proud to do so. The promotion of dignity, women's rights, measures against poverty and stigma and a spirit of compassionate care makes my soul sing. And maybe that's the sign of a real movement for change and care. Thank you Binti - because of you the world is a better place.
( thanks to my Binti friends and colleagues - Priya Bhabra, Ripaljeet Kaur, Tina Leslie, Glenys Marriott, Gemma Scire, Mandip Sahota, Sharon North, Sam Singh and of course Manjit Gill )