Stokes help­ing to end In­dia taboo

The Daily Telegraph - Business - - Sport - Molly McEl­wee

The tagline “Let’s talk pe­ri­ods” found its sur­pris­ing home in elite men’s sports last week. This was a ma­jor male fran­chise, the In­dian Premier League’s Ra­jasthan Roy­als, get­ting their play­ers to open up about men­stru­a­tion. To call this a land­mark mo­ment would not be an over­state­ment.

In a hugely pro­gres­sive move, the Roy­als last week an­nounced their new shirt spon­sor was In­dian san­i­tary towel brand Ni­ine. When their sea­son be­gins in the United Arab Emi­rates next month (re­lo­cated due to Covid-19), their team – in­clud­ing Eng­land’s Ben Stokes, Jos But­tler and Jofra Archer plus Aus­tralia’s Steve

Smith – will wear the logo on their kits. The words “With her, we rise” will be printed on their backs.

The an­nounce­ment was made fol­low­ing In­dia prime min­is­ter Naren­dra Modi’s In­de­pen­dence Day ad­dress, in which he spoke of the taboo around women’s health in the coun­try. Roy­als’ ex­ec­u­tive chair­man Ran­jit Barthakur said his team aimed to “make real change” by align­ing them­selves with Ni­ine, and it was an ef­fort to sup­port fe­male em­pow­er­ment in the coun­try. In In­dia, just as in many parts of the world, men­stru­at­ing women are of­ten os­tracised and ex­cluded from so­ci­ety, due to stereo­typ­i­cal prej­u­dices deem­ing women un­clean. In­dia has the sec­ond-largest men­stru­at­ing pop­u­la­tion glob­ally, es­ti­mated at over 300mil­lion, and for many women dur­ing the week of their pe­riod they are blocked from re­li­gious cer­e­monies, so­cial gath­er­ings and even ex­cluded from the kitchen or cook­ing meals. WaterAid and Unicef found that more than one-third of girls in South Asia miss school days dur­ing their pe­riod – and that ex­tends to other coun­tries where mis­con­cep­tions and pe­riod poverty ex­ist too, even in the UK.

One of the Roy­als’ star play­ers, In­dia’s Robin Uthappa, called it “spe­cial” to be a part of tack­ling this prob­lem. “We must get rid of such stig­mas that hin­der the pro­gres­sion and growth of our so­ci­ety,” he said. “I per­son­ally feel [that] not talk­ing openly about men­stru­a­tion is a ma­jor is­sue. I feel ex­tremely happy to be part of this ve­hi­cle for change and I’m sure hav­ing Ni­ine on our jer­seys is go­ing to cre­ate the aware­ness that we need to get the mes­sage across.”

With cricket the most watched sport in In­dia, for the Roy­als to take on such a taboo is­sue di­rectly shows a so­cial con­scious­ness that is not of­ten found in part­ner­ships made in men’s sports, where bet­ting com­pa­nies of­ten dom­i­nate shirt spon­sor­ship deals.

On so­cial me­dia, hun­dreds ap­plauded the Roy­als for the re­fresh­ing move, with Eng­land women player Danni Wy­att giv­ing it the thumbs up. “It’s amaz­ing,” Wy­att told The Daily Tele­graph.

“I think times are chang­ing, which is great to see, and credit to the Roy­als. They replied to [my com­ment] on Twit­ter say­ing this is just the start, so well done to them.”

A men’s team recog­nis­ing that sport is not ex­clu­sively con­sumed by men – through their part­ner­ships or their ac­tions – should not nec­es­sar­ily be head­line news. But with ex­am­ples so few and far be­tween it is a big deal, the power of which can­not be un­der­es­ti­mated.

The in­flu­ence men’s sport has, in the way of mil­lions of fans and huge fi­nan­cial clout, truly can change per­cep­tions. Open­ing up what have tra­di­tion­ally been ex­clu­sively male spa­ces to women’s is­sues – be they health-based, so­cial or both – is no small act and should be am­pli­fied.

Land­mark move: Ben Stokes and the Ra­jasthan Roy­als will wear kit pro­mot­ing the san­i­tary towel brand Ni­ine in the IPL

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