It took a Somali man to understand the sanitary wear needs of Somali girls and women

Earlier this year The Gender Unit of the Puntland Ministry of Education distributed 1000s of both re-usable and disposable sanitary kits to 1000s of female students in dozens of target schools in all the regions of Puntland. The Gender Unit conducts this rigorous activity several times a year, every year and has been doing so since 2011.

The provision of sanitary kits to female students has been globally known to significantly improve the quality of girls’ education in terms of their attendance and performance. Whereas else where in the world, poor school girls are forced to use cow dung as sanitary wear, the situation in Somalia is completely different.

To understand the situation and context in Somalia, please see my earlier article How do sanitary kits boost up the quality of girls education in Somalia?

In the past years, almost all of the female students we worked with have had a strong preference for the re-usable sanitary wear for their monthly periods. These kits are are locally produced and they have been the number one choice of many female students. There are several reasons why female students opted for this and the biggest reason was for economical reasons; a re-usable sanitary kit costs only 5.5 USD per pack and goes a long way in terms of durability. Especially in the rural areas, this preference was the strongest. Please see the article mentioned above for a deeper understanding of this.

Bilan enthusiasm in Puntland

But a few months ago as we were in the middle of distributing the usual re-usable sanitary kits to 1000s of school girls from upper primary onwards, we were dumbfounded to witness a strange trend which took us by complete surprise. We saw a tendency in all of the schools – both rural and urban. The majority of the students were talking about Bilan, a beautifully packaged disposable sanitary kit manufactured by an organisation called Dauus in USA. They showed a strong preference this time for Bilan. The girls didn’t want these re-sable sanitary kits anymore. They would say it was old fashioned, not hygienic because it is made by hand and not packaged as professionally good as Bilan! We were also slightly taken aback by the level of information the girls had about this product……which, for me personally, was good to witness! They were fully informed about Bilan, about how good it was and they described it beautifully saying “We don’t want anything other than Bilan”. They were all head over hills in love with these sanitary pads, carrying a beautiful Somali female name.

Understanding the psychology of Bilan

Whoever deigned Bilan was a genius. I understand that the company is owned by a Somali man but I don’t know who exactly designed the Bilan pads. I have done some research as to how and why the Somali girls are so deeply in love with Bilan and I think the following reasons all play significant roles. I took time to inquire from our Regional Gender Focal Persons in all the 9 regions of Puntland and I also spoke with the girls themselves.

To begin with, the school girls relate so profoundly well with the name, the manufacturer and the brand. They trust it because it is a Somali product and they therefore understand and believe in it.

Bilan is advertised regularly on all Somali media. In this particular Bilan video advert, a Somali mother proudly walks in her beautiful modern kitchen, a kitchen that looks more like a living room, with all modern things every Somali mother dreams of. She is carrying a shopping bag with some grocery items, implying that she’d just gotten home from doing some shopping for the family. She quickly puts the grocery items on the table; some bread, some plates, breakfast items.

Somali love

But she also neatly takes out a Bilan pack, all purple, shining and sealed as usual, as she poetically says in Somali “ooh my dear sweet daughters, I know that today is Bilan day and I have no worries about any (potential) issues”. As a woman myself, I think that with ‘issues’ she means any leaking potential, wetting and staining of clothes or even the possibility for infection. This act shows a strong Somali mother who is well informed about the patterns of the menstruation cycle of her daughters and openly discusses it.

She puts menstruation pads on the most public place in the house; the dining table. It seems Bilan has brought closer to home, a topic which until now was very far away from family gathering seats. Bilan has broken the silence. The mother says the above heartwarming words as she neatly puts a pack of Bilan on the table, next to the bread. Soon after a young girl – the daughter- a student – walks in the beautiful kitchen carrying a school bag, ready for school. She sees Bilan on the table, smiles and thankfully kisses her mother on the cheek as she mutters “Bilan helps me get a good quality education. It helps me not to worry. I go to school with no worries”. This is what has caught the minds and hearts of the school girls in Puntland. They too can go to school with no worries. There is something magical about Bilan!

In the same video, an older daughter is seen leaving the house also. She is off to work wearing office clothes and looking all so professional. She is confidently wearing the hijaab and is seen walking towards her expensive-looking vehicle parked just outside the Somali family’s home. Before she enters the vehicle, she stops, looks back and happily waves bye-bye to her family. She then majestically gets in the car. Stops once more to wave bye. As she does so she says out loud “Bilan helps me too in my (professional) work as I face no issue/worries”.

So fresh. So clean.

There is some royalty to this. The video is so elegant. The people are so elegant and yet so homely. A happy loving Somali family. Looking so clean and so fresh. Smiles here. Laughter there. Confidence. Happiness. Good health.  A Somali mother waves goodbye to her daughters going to school and to work, respectively. The combination of the mother, a daughter off to school, another daughter off to work, Bilan and the emotions are the ingredients for a successful Somali family. They also instill in you a familiar sight of Somali love. Cleanliness and hygiene are big issues for Somali women and girls.

This video-clip displays a strong sense of family, of unity, of love and bond. There is a sense of sharing something so intimate and so personal with the rest of the family, especially with the mother. The young lady drives off in a expensive vehicle. A sense of freedom is portrayed that says you can do anything while on your menses. A Somali family that is so connected, so aware of the menstruating cycle patterns of its members. A Somali mother is reassured that her daughters are in good hands with Bilan. So clean. So fresh. The video ends with a reminder for everyone “Bilan will help you too, so that you too can go on doing your daily chores, they never ever have to stop”.

In two other Bilan video-clips, here and here a well-educated, English speaking young athletic-built Somali girl also openly explains why she uses Bilan and chooses it above all other sanitary wears. She argues that the brand is economical and comes at an affordable prize, among other attributes.

Every Somali mother wants this for her daughter(s)

In Puntland, Bilan is slowly becoming a household name. A Bilan pack goes for about 2 USD per pack. The only other available disposable sanitary kits is the one called softy and it is despised by Somali women. Since 2008 when I first came to the region, this softy has been around and even then women hated it. It does not have any absorption capacity and indeed it is as soft as its name. It is in fact useless and even more expensive than Bilan going for 2.5 to 3 USD per pack.

A Bilan pack contains some dozen pads or so and if one were to calculate how much a young girl would need per year it would be 2 USD X 12 months which would equal to 24 USD.

The way the Bilan pack is packed speaks volumes about the extent to which its manufacturers went to ensure its quality and hygiene.

Each pad is carefully designed and created. The pad itself is velvety to the touch and really beautiful to just watch. This is what the Somali woman wants. This is what every Somali mother wants for her daughter. This is what I, as a Somali woman and a Somali mother would want for my daughter….and for myself and for all Somali women and girls

Somali femininity, so beautifully visualized and displayed in words, feelings and pictures

There is an element of truth in the Bilan videos and the Bilan brand which attracts its users. What you see is what you get. There is an element of empowerment as well. Somali femininity is beautifully visualized and displayed in words, feelings and pictures. The video speaks directly to Somali women and girls. There is also an element of modernity. An element of affordability, of transparency and originality that has attracted the hearts and minds of Somali girls and women living in Somalia.

In conclusion, when people have choices, people will have the ability to make the best choice. For far too long, Somalis have been bombarded with products from abroad, from God-knows where they were produced. We had no choice but to take what was there. But we now have a choice and if the choice is choosing between a good Somali brand and a non-Somali brand, then for sure we will choose the Somali brand. I also know from experience that Somalis tend to often choose Somali brands. Information is key. When you know better, you choose and decide better.

As a Ministry, we have an obligation to bring this information to people so that they make fully informed decisions. I am committed to doing this. Personally, I fully support this trend, this revolution. I am happy that the girls are well informed and equipped with the necessary information about what is good for them. We are talking about menstruation, about private parts, about privacy, about hygiene. We are talking about a need which we have to effectively respond to. A need that arises every single month of the year, every year. We are talking about people’s lives. Somalis must support Somali-owned businesses above non-Somali ones.

Finally, any Somali woman who has used Bilan will agree with me that this product has been made with some Somali tender-loving-care. Bilan is so dam good. It is indeed so fresh. So clean. So full of Somali love. Well done to the people and brains behind Bilan. Thank you for taking the time to understand and respond to the sanitary wear needs of Somali woman and girls.

bilan

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