Pakistani activist Wasma Imran is leading an effort to provide her country’s girls with basic hygiene while menstruating, an all-too-common obstacle that otherwise prevents many from pursuing an education or other opportunities. According to polls taken by U.N. initiative U-Report, nearly 50 percent of girls in Pakistan lack access to basic menstrual hygiene facilities at their home, workplace or school.
“A lot of girls around the world cannot actually go to school when they’re on their period because they cannot afford pads. That hit me pretty hard,” Imran told BBC News. “The conversation around periods in Pakistan is quite limited. The word period itself does not exist in the vocabulary of a normal Pakistani here.”
With many women unable to afford sanitary towels, pads, and other options, Imran decided to offer a practical and sustainable solution to the problem — affordable, and reusable, menstrual cups. In 2017, she founded the Recircle Cup along with fellow activist Mahin Khan, and began leading pushback against the notion that openly discussing, and promoting, women’s health should be considered a taboo.
“There’s a lot of women who message me and ask me: ‘Is it haram to use menstrual cups?’” said Imran. “It’s sort of like this big thing that’s supposed to be hidden. Educating people about periods and how it should be normalized — as normal as breathing … I feel like in the coming years menstrual cups will be sitting right next to pads and tampons in supermarkets.”
“Many Pakistani males do not know much about periods and they do not talk much about periods,” added Khan. “I have realized that this is a problem that concerns 50 percent of the population.”
While many are excited for the progress that Imran’s efforts have made, the activist said she had faced anger for taking on the taboo topic from both men and women — her own mother among them.
“She was like, ‘You don’t know what you’ve done. You don’t know how bad it is,’” Imran said, recalling her mother’s reaction to her activism. “But I was able to have a conversation with her regarding this.”
Watch BBC News’ interview with Imran below.