By Chris Onuoha
Chaste Inegbedion, Mr. Padman is a writer. He is known for his self-help book that connects Dads and Daughters on better period management called “The Period Passport.”
The author who lives in Harrisburg with his spouse, Roxanne Stewart, a Banker, Photographer and Publisher is excited for the book to be out in the world that is dragging ‘Men into Menstruation’ discussions, amidst the danger of a single story with Gender Equality.
With the book that is available in Kindle, Paperback, Hardcover, and audio-book extraordinarily for another reason, Chaste takes you deep into the heart of his own obsession with Period Poverty; radical writings on devoted Hollywood Dads, glamorous Grandma and period genie. The highly informative book, which covers all aspects of menstrual period in girls and women, was co-written by Yetunde Oluwafunmilayo Tola, a registered nurse and midwife based in Hong Kong, and it’s almost impossible not to be infected by his enthusiasm.
Reflecting on the COVID era best seller, Chaste quipped; “Periods Don’t Pause during Pandemics,” an attribute to a masterly feat for Men in Menstruation, which is now being turned into a short animation film for Amazon Prime by Sanicle, creators of the Book.
Chaste, recipient of the Manevia African Leadership Award for Social Innovation, is just one of several authors behind new books about women’s bodies written, not by doctors or nurses, but individuals more neatly lumped together as social activists, who are unsettled by how little women know. Some of these books are journalistic (Lynn Enright’s Vagina: A Re-education; two separate books called Period by Natalie Byrne and Emma Barnett, It’s Only Blood by Anna Dahlqvist); some are polemic (Ask Me About My Uterus by Abby Norman, Nadya Okamoto’s Period Power and Heavy Flow by Amanda Laird. Others are more about reframing menstruation as an experience that could be more efficient and fulfilling (In the Flo by Alisa Vitti and Hill’s book Period Power.
In this exclusive conversation with the budding writer, Chaste, he narrates the zeal, the energy, the inspiration and those propelling dynamics that bore what has come to be reckoned as a masterpiece in menstrual experience by male folk. Excerpts:
Tell us about the journey that led to you writing this book.
A lot of mental work and research goes into writing a book, especially non-fiction. Building my story, creating narrations on topics that interest both genders and establishing settings are few of what I try to assemble before I start writing. Consequently, all these affect the duration of writing a book. I remember several times I spoke to my team on public education on period; building a community most especially for Dads and Daughters on better Period Management. Then after completion from the Founder Institute acceleration programme, one of my colleagues invited me to speak to JCI New York Members and I did a presentation, shared an E-Book, and later developed the idea to advance those topics, which has been part of our daily conversation and travel across the world. However long it takes, what is important is not to mount unnecessary pressure on oneself as a writer. There is no fixed time to complete a book.
Tell us about one of the people at the center of this book and what makes them interesting.
A law maker (Assembly member) Garcia has been a driving force behind period dignity policies in the Golden State. In 2017, she had legislation signed into law that brought free menstrual products, to low-income schools, in underserved communities. And later, she helped repeal the tax charged on menstrual health products. The self-proclaimed “Period Princess” introduced Assembly Bill 367; the Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021, which requires all state university and community college campuses, grade 6-12 public schools and state/local municipal buildings, to provide menstrual products.
Beyond the walls of the State Legislature, Assembly member Garcia is the Vice-Chair of both the Commission on the Status of Women and Girls. The Commission promotes equality through numerous initiatives, such as increasing the number of girls in STEM education and careers by providing mentorships.
Why does this subject matter to you? Why was it worth spending a year (or five, etc.) of your life on it?
Menstruation is an important phase in every woman’s life, which signals growth and biophysical maturity. Every normal girl or woman experiences this change as a natural, involuntary process. Unfortunately, minimal attention is paid to this aspect of women’s life. Rather, menstruation is a cause for negative societal reactions that tend to reduce women’s self-esteem and is often a harbinger of emotional guilt. What is natural and inevitable has become a social burden for females in many African societies.
Lots of women are constrained or even deprived of the right to manage their menstrual cycle adequately, weighed against social biases and economic inadequacies like poverty; while others who may not face any social rebuffs may lack the financial capacity to manage menstruation hygienically and safely. Therefore, paying attention to proper menstrual hygiene simply becomes an opportunity cost and the alternative foregone.
Besides economic challenges, ignorance arising from poor education perpetuates old myths wherein societies are stuck in cultural believes surrounding menstruation.
In your book, you stated that “one of the reasons for the neglect of menstrual hygiene is gender inequality.” How did you come to that?
Menstruating girls and women face several possibilities in unfair societies, and this includes discrimination, stigmatization, ostracism, and segregation during their periods.
In some societies, women may not be allowed access to some parts of the house; may not make use of common utensils (like plates and cups) or facilities (like bathrooms and toilets) in the home; may not be allowed to attend social events or public gatherings; may be restrained from their regular chores or duties — not as a relief, but because of the “uncleanliness” arising from their period. They are thus considered impure, dirty, soiled, and consequently expected to keep a distance.
This imposes upon the “victims” thus neglected a feeling of shame and erodes their self-confidence during their period; thus, menstruation becomes a silent curse for girls and women, even those in marriages. The resort to self-help and unwholesome practices increases the risk of cervical cancer, and other infections of their intimate body parts, which they may not be aware of.
What made you decide to tackle this subject? How did you get into menstrual matters, and why do you keep doing it?
The surprising answer is that as a child I went to a catholic church, and we had proper scripture lessons. As I’ve gotten older, I appreciate that there’s a richness there that can inform your life enormously. Treating people as you’d be treated, trying to love your neighbor’s if not like them – those things are quite powerful if you let them be.
I have always been a proud feminist, lending my voice to issues like Rape, Female Genital Mutilation (Pwashikai) and joined the Menstrual Movement starting with a Sanitary Pad Donation Drive, a project that gives underprivileged girls sanitary pads and attempts to improve learning for girls who cannot afford sanitary napkins. There have been cases of women on twitter with placards complaining of the hike in sanitary pads, with statements like they would rather get pregnant than buy pads at a ridiculous price. If sex is a choice, why is condom free and sanitary pads expensive? Why is Viagra non-taxed and tampons taxed? There was a gender war and I felt it was time for Men to live up to the expectation of Men In Menstruation.
I kept going at it because I was trying to answer a calling that I mistook for all kinds of things – Influencing; social work; briefly, the Corporate World. When I discovered Activism, I realized it had elements of many of those things and spoke to a lot of the writing I’d always done on blogs.
What are some of the ways other people are making a difference in the world?
Many people believe that they don’t have what it takes to make a difference to the world. They believe only people like Mahatma Gandhi, Mother Theresa, Thomas Edison, Albert Einstein, Bill Gates, and the likes, can make a difference.
The truth is, every one of us is put in this world to contribute and make a difference to the world in our own unique way. It need not be anything extraordinary. It just needs to be something you do with the intention of ‘doing good’.
There are examples where men have made significant contributions. Dr Earle Cleveland Haas, a general practitioner in America in the early thirties, devised his own versions of cotton and bandage plugs to control bleeding problems in his patients. He perfected an item that could be inserted into a vagina, now the well-known tampon, and patented it in 1931.
The three Johnson brothers, of the multinational company Johnson and Johnson, created and sold their first batch of sanitary napkins in the year 1896 – 1897. A more recent Indian male contributor is Arunachalam Muruganantham, developer of the low-cost pad manufacturing machines known as the Menstruation Man, inspired Padman Africa. Nonetheless, these contributions have come at a cost and can cause more harm than good. These mass production business models of disposable products, often laced with chemicals, cause significant damage to the environment and women’s health, and usually fail long term sustainability tests.
However, another man, Anshu Gupta, took a safe, eco-friendly approach to menstruation. In 2000, Gupta founded the NGO Goonj in India which works in disaster zones at times of flood, earthquakes, and other emergencies. When people are displaced, Goonj played a valuable role in menstrual management by making shelters exclusively for women’s needs and providing clean menstrual cloth.
What has helped you get to where you are, and what advice would you have for others who want to set off in a similar direction?
You’ve got to be nice to each other, and allow a little bit of selflessness and a little bit of co-dependency. Everyone raves about the importance of being independent. Actually, it’s much more mature to learn co-dependency and trust someone fully. Once you get there, a little bit of magic can come into the relationship; it becomes more than the sum of its parts. That’s a real blessing. Collaboration, Consistency and Conquering is more effective than competition
Tell us about this Magical Period Genie in view?
Period Genie, Sanicle’s personal digital assistant, uses machine learning and natural speech to answer questions around periods, return relevant search information, perform actions and more.
The voice-activated concierge with a Period Hypothesis, inspired by the Genie, is the tritagonist of Disney’s 1992 animated feature film, Aladdin. A magic spirit believed to take human form and serve the person who calls it. How does the genie help? This leverages Google and Quora for Period Matters, helping them predict their next period and send them sanitary subscriptions
Do you remember a specific experience where you wished that you had done something differently? Then, if you were to do it over, what would you change?
Leadership, if used effectively, is a critical component in influencing people. It has given me invaluable knowledge in effective leadership and ability to collaborate with others for a common good. A perfect example is our school-based program which involves connecting menstrual hygiene professionals to schools and teaching both boys and girls on how to maintain proper menstrual hygiene. We were to demonstrate at one of our activities with the reusable pads and one of our collaborators, condemned the pads, seeking a refund and we had to call a medical doctor who had to revalidate it before continuation. Such exiting collaboration will not only bridge the menstrual health gap between advocates and the population, but also create long lasting bonds with the schoolboys and girls in their respective communities. This demanding job and unique opportunity thought me responsibility, work ethic, presentation skills, money management, and most importantly made me a better leader.
A follow-up to the previous question: By way of comparison, do you remember something you’ve done or something you wish everyone was doing, and why?
The film industry and the animation TV industry and vice versa are all kind of merging with the game industry with their technology. So, a lot of that game technology is now available to us to make things much faster and bring those powerful computer times down, which can be a cause for why things take so long.
Now that the gaming technology is coming into play and everything else in the virtual reality, it’s a huge part and it’s coming across, which is so much fun to see that.
I see into the future in terms of metaverse projects, How Period Narratives can be changed when merged with gaming.
In the future, I do see Dads and Teenage Daughters on better period management and with the virtual reality getting more popular, I’d love if they could interact with it just like the Alexa of Period asking questions like: “Where is my Period Box subscription for this month due? What are the recommendations for stopping Period Cramp, and is there a period playlist to keep your mood alive when experiencing a bad period day?
I wish it was more interactive, in front of their faces, and I don’t think it’s going to be long, and they won’t have to put the goggles on and play that game or take the goggles off. It will be part of the character and you see how they interact with the iPad now—that character can come and talk to you on your iPad, you scan the QR code and then there’s another little thing that they can go to.
What I was saying to one of the teenage girls in my community, we’ve got this amazing iconic character in our book, and I said, ‘Can’t you hear him talking to you in your head?’ And she’s like, ‘I can actually.’
I’m like, ‘Oh, amazing. Imagine if he was the narrator in our short film animation project. And then he popped up and he was a virtual reality character that appeared to the students and started talking about leading a new path for period essentials and lifestyle experience—while onboarding period companies; hosting podcasts, yoga for period pains, games, comics, menstrual health advocates, Study of Space Menses; and other secret sauces that leverage science fiction and space technology to end period poverty—our goal is to create engaging period experiences through the design of fun and sophisticated products with rich back stories through generational women from their first menstruation to beyond menopause with menstrual education for single dads and teenage daughters.’ I think that’s going to be so exciting in the future for them for sure.
What’s the question you are most tired of hearing on this subject, and what would you like to say about it, so you never have to answer it again?
Is Period Innovation due for an Update? and Is Period Poverty a Myth? Can I have sex during my period?
A good orgasm is the best solution for cramps. In the 1930s, the tampon was invented by a man and to-date not much has changed. In 1969 pads shocked the world by adding an adhesive strip. Finally, building momentum through 2015, we’re starting to see safer and smarter products that offer women alternatives to coping with a bloody mess and its side effects. We are evolving from smart phones to smart watches; then smart homes to now smart menstrual cups, working with partners as wearable technology evolves. There’s one place—Page 9 of our Book: ‘The Period Passport’ talks more on this.
Is Period Poverty a Myth? No, it’s real and page 85 in our book addresses this question. Sanicle is on a mission to end period poverty, working with you to explore technology alternatives and not just humanitarian.
What is one piece of practical advice you would give to someone starting?
I started advocating for Menstrual Health, Hygiene, and affordable sanitary products as far back as I can remember because Menstruation is one of the key components of SRHR and the perceptions surrounding menstruation inspired my advocacy. An example is a campaign I led which saw to the revival of a genitally abused girl child — she was a 5-year-old girl, by the name Pwashikai Nideono from Adamawa state left to die after suffering Female Genital Mutilation and an urgent financial aid was needed for vaginoplasty. Then I started the ‘Save Pwashikai Nideono campaign’, which generated enough buzz and funds for a successful operation. And since then, Pwashikai has been reconciled back to society. That spurred more activities around the promotion of Gender Equality while living in Northern Nigeria as an advocate of the MDGs, now known as the Sustainable Development Goals. Growing up with lot of Cousins, Nieces and Aunties, as my father had to use our home to accommodate those who were coming into Lagos to pursue greener pasture. I was an errand boy helping out with the purchase of Sanitary Pads at a ‘Younger Age’ for the ‘Adult ladies’ around me. I remember during the Abacha Era, there was a lot of need. In my neighborhood, there was a girl who had been caught stealing a neighbor’s underwear from the washing line. After her punishment, it was discovered that she had begun her periods and menstruated on the only underwear she owned so needed another one to change. Practical Advice: Roll your sleeve, get to work and be very passionate even when the resources are out of reach.
What is the best resource for people who want to dive in deeper?
The Menstrual Equity for All Act of 2021, which requires all state university and community college campuses, grade 6 – 12 public schools and state/local municipal buildings to provide menstrual products. If passed, the bill would be one giant leap toward menstrual equity in the United States.
Having convenient and free access to these products means our period won’t prevent us from being productive members of society and would alleviate the anxiety of trying to find a product when out in public. Stocking different states in the USA’s public restrooms in schools, colleges and government buildings with free menstrual products, brings us one step closer to making sure periods are never a problem for people who menstruate.
Inspired by Scotland’s The Period Products (Free Provision) Bill, AB 367 will help ensure that access to period products is a human right. The Scotland bill passed unanimously in November and requires period products to be obtainable in schools, colleges, and certain public places free of charge.
Scotland showed the world that pioneering policy can be passed, with bipartisan support, and become law. Other period-conscious countries are also making strides to ensure menstruating students get the supplies they need: England began offering free products in state schools and colleges in January 2020.
This past February, the French government said it would install machines dispensing free tampons and pads in student residences and at university health services.
New Zealand officials will soon provide free period products in all schools nationwide.
When countries like Scotland, France, and New Zealand pioneer legislation for menstrual equity, they pave the way for other nations and states to consider similar actions for women, girls, and menstruators. It’s time the lawmakers, legislators, governments, and institutions around the world stood up for people with periods and make access to period products a basic human right.
Is there anything we’re leaving out here that needs to be addressed?
We believe we can begin to change the story of our schoolgirls and we can also give the Nation an opportunity of having more of its girls attain their full potential in the society. Sanicle has worked extensively with the UN Inter-Agency Network Working Group on Gender Equality and interacting intensively with a Global Workforce. The Partnership for the Global Goals has instilled in us that working with Stakeholders through its projects ensures that our girls are part of a community where their stories are shared, and solutions provided. This will also give our girls the equal opportunity of participation in the future of the world. Working with Stakeholders on projects that are designed in line with the objectives of the Sustainable Development Goals, and intensive studies with Period Innovation that are due for updating matching with our greatest satisfaction. It helps to have a “home team” to consort with, learn with, solve problems with—on matters great and small
Although, the primary focus of having a ‘Period Party’ is to supply women with the products they need for their periods, it would also make an impact on how the school community approaches the topic of periods and creation of period tools. This would help to educate, while watching students from all levels, both girls and boys, bring period products for drives and helping to assemble the period packs would be a proof to their immediate community that we have already started to address the stigma. It’s important for people to realize that as uncomfortable as many make the topic seem, it’s plenty more uncomfortable and unhealthier to not have the necessary products for a period. The pursuit of an enjoyable period may be a premature concept. For the time being, the best kind of period could be one that is acknowledged at all.