In a country where even talking about menstruation is largely considered a taboo subject, a men’s cricket team wearing the logo of a sanitary napkin brand on their jersey in the world’s most-watched T20 league is a socially significant move.
Rajasthan Royals, the champions of the inaugural edition of the Indian Premier League, are the first Indian sports team to be sponsored by a feminine hygiene products brand. The team will feature the logo of Niine on their shirts for the upcoming edition of the IPL.
Also read: Girls and women menstruate. Period
The silence and stereotypes that surround menstruation in India is a consequence of years of cultural conditioning and this move is a step towards normalising a conversation about what is a biological process.
More importantly, this brings the conversation out in a space largely inhabited by men.
Cricket is the most popular sport in the country and the audience IPL attracts cuts across regional, economic and socio-cultural barriers in India.
For Royals, this is a Corporate Social Responsibility initiative to further the cause of women’s empowerment and they aim to use their platform to increase the awareness around the importance of menstrual hygiene.
“With IPL having such a mass appeal, RR is committed to breaking the stigma around periods, and educate not only women but also men about periods and accept it as a normal biological process,” Jake Lush McCrum, the COO of the team, told Scroll.in.
RR’s Executive Chairman, Ranjit Barthakur said this was the time to make real change. “IPL is a fantastic commodity which is loved and watched by millions around the world, we at Rajasthan Royals, through this partnership, look to be the drivers of change both on and off the field during the IPL, sending out a resounding message of change on the biggest of stages,” he said.
The partnership is said to have met with no resistance from the backrooms of the team management.
Asked about the gender parity in the office, McCrum said that women were involved in the decision-making as well.
“RR is probably one of those rare teams in IPL wherein the male to female ratio in the think tank is around 50-50. Chandni Malhotra, who is GM, Sponsorships, was integral in securing the Niine partnership. There are a lot of women leaders in the organisation and they have been doing a phenomenal job,” he said.
“It is important to note though that the men in the team were equally enthusiastic about the potential partnership and the impact it can have,” he added.
The statistics in India are bleak with only 20% of Indian women having access to sanitary napkins while over 70% of girls are unaware of menstruation until their first cycle. Beyond numbers, the misconceptions and restrictions around periods are also deep-rooted, with women being barred from entering kitchen, temples while menstruating. Then there is the taboo around visuals, with sanitary napkins still covered and covertly handed over in many shops while advertisements euphemise the process.
Of course, the perceptions are changing, especially in the urban landscape, with honest depictions, adverts on prime-time television and even public discourse from people in influential positions. Recently, food delivery service Zomato was in the news for introducing a “period leave” policy for women, a move that was both lauded and hotly debated.
In a time like this, to have an organisation associated with the IPL highlight the issue of menstruation and feminine hygiene shines an unprecedented light on a topic ignored for long. Too many times in the past, female athletes have had to suffer from both pain and silence while on their period. To have male cricketers talk about it is a step in the right direction.
“I personally feel we need to come out and talk about issues in our society, not talking openly about menstruation is a major issue. There needs to be an openness amongst us, within our families, our relatives,” said RR player and World T20 winner Robin Uthappa.
RR announced the association on India’s Independence Day with a video of players talking about freedom. “When we approached players with a script to record a voiceover, all of them were curious to know what brand it is for, as the script was so powerful. Upon knowing that it was for Niine, they were extremely supportive,” the COO said.
Uthappa added: “I’m really proud to be part of a team that is at the forefront of change within our society and a vehicle for spreading awareness regarding women issues, something that for far too long now we’ve been too shy to talk about… I’m sure having Niine on our jerseys is going to create the awareness that we need to get the message across.”
Asked about the way forward, McCrum said that the team has planned several initiatives that will be revealed in due time. “#LetsTalkPeriods is a powerful campaign that we will be supporting. We have some very exciting initiatives planned to make as big an impact as possible,” he said.
The current RR team includes international cricket stars such as Steve Smith, Ben Stokes, Jofra Archer.
This edition of the IPL will be held in UAE beginning on September 19.