Aug 17, 2018
Mehreen Alavi | August 17, 2018
Wasma Imran is an entrepreneur in Pakistan, who runs a company called Recircle, which brought menstrual cups to Pakistan. In a country where periods and topics regarding women’s reproductive health are considered taboo, Wasma has been discussing them openly on forums, which include the UNICEF sponsored session on Menstrual Hygiene Management.
Tell us about yourself.
I am a Lahore University of Management Sciences graduate of year 2016. Since graduation, I have been working in the health sector for the Government of Pakistan. I started Recircle a year ago as a small business. The idea came to me after trying to come up with a plastic-free solution to improving health facilities for women, especially. Recircle is now the first registered menstrual cup selling company in Pakistan.
How did the idea for Recircle come about?
My co-founder Mahin Khan and I were discussing how most women in Pakistan were unable to afford sanitary napkins and tampons, and would use rags instead. This was not only inconvenient, but incredibly unhealthy, as well. Pads and tampons, as well, while healthier for women than rags, are terrible for the environment. Mahin and I were looking for an eco-friendly, cheaper solution to this issue. While researching on this, I found that menstrual cups have been in use for over 75 years in the rest of the world. After personally using these products and looking up surveys, I found the best ones that could be used for Pakistani women.
Tell us about the difficulties you faced in introducing Recircle in Pakistan?
There is a false belief among local women that inserting menstrual care products somehow affect your virginity. In a conservative country such as Pakistan, virginity is held synonymous to honor in our society and women are supposed to hold onto it until marriage. I had to debunk a lot of false theories such as this. Some women considered menstrual cups to be less hygienic than pads, which are the most used menstrual product in the country. We had to show them why and how these were actually more hygienic to use. One problem we’re still facing is that we initially wanted to give free cups to the women in rural areas who could not even afford pads and had to make use of rags. Until now, we are still reaching out to higher income women to make menstrual cup use more mainstream.
What difficulties have you faced while discussing menstrual health in Pakistan?
Menstruation and periods are still considered a taboo in, not just conservative societies, but all societies, in general. We had to ease people into talking about these things. We started off by speaking to the youth in schools and universities, since students are considerably more liberal and open-minded. We also started to talk about it on media, which has started discussing so-called taboo subjects more openly, now. Once we had opened people’s minds to it, we started being more explicit. We were adamant that men had to be included in these conversations and w openly discussed female bodily functions with them, in order to make them comfortable with the subject. For women to achieve equality, men need to be included in these discussions. Once we were able to achieve this, conversation flowed a lot easier and we found that people opened up as readily to us as we did to them. Our success rate is 99% until now and we’ve learnt that most people find out about us through word of mouth, which means people have started to discuss these matters amongst each other, as well.
You were a part of YLC’s session on Menstrual Hygiene Management sponsored by UNICEF. Tell us something about that.
The session included three women on the panel, me and two other sportswomen. The audience was made of over 300 15-20 year old young people from around the country, including men. We discussed how people needed to start opening up about menstrual problems women faced. When we do not talk openly about these things, it’s women who suffer. I also discussed what the product was and how it was necessary to provide a cheaper and an environment friendly solution to menstrual health for women. We also discussed why menstrual health was considered such a taboo.
Why do you think menstrual health is considered a taboo?
In our society, especially, women are considered to be impure whilst on their period. I think since it’s only women that face this problem, it is suppressed. Women’s problems are not addressed as much in any case, which makes menstruation the last problem men would want to talk about.
How would you describe women empowerment?
For me, women empowerment depends on the context. The area you reside in also defines what is most pertinent to empowering women. In Pakistan, for instance, for me in order to achieve an equal ground, women need to get social, economic and political equality. It is only then women will receive the equality they are fighting for.
How important do you think freedom of movement is for women empowerment?
It is extremely important. Mobility is a prerequisite for women to achieve economic equality. Men can still use public transportation and motorbikes as a cheaper means of transportation. These are unsafe for women, whose movement is restricted due to this. I was very happy to learn that Safr was training female drivers, as well. This helps women achieve economic empowerment, too. As someone who has to travel regularly using rideshare services, I have to deal with parents being worried about me coming home late. A service addressing these very problems is incredibly necessary, in my opinion to achieve freedom of movement.