Industry must 'courageously and innovatively' break barriers to menstrual health and wellbeing

By Natasha Spencer-Jolliffe

- Last updated on GMT

Image credit: Unsplash/Natracare
Image credit: Unsplash/Natracare

Related tags Unicef menstruation

Health and hygiene firm Essity has renewed its partnership with UNICEF to improve awareness and education surrounding hygiene and menstruation health management (MHM), highlighting challenges that exist in achieving wellbeing for all and spotlighting personal care collaboration promise.

The Swedish-based global health and hygiene company Essity has extended its partnership with global organisation UNICEF (United Nations International Children’s Emergency Fund) in Mexico with a three-year agreement to continue building awareness, education and action around good hygiene and breaking menstruation taboos.

Speaking to CosmeticsDesign-Europe, Helena Hansen of Essity explained the company’s aim is to break barriers to wellbeing and contribute to a healthy and sustainable society.

She said that taboos relating to personal care and period hygiene were “very much dependent on where you reside”. ​Globally, on average, 42% of women have refrained from attending school or work in the last year due to menstruation, with the highest number of respondents residing in India (77%), Brazil (61%) and Mexico (59%), research from Essity’s survey showed. In Europe, this was the case among 40% of participants in Italy, 37% in Spain, 32% in France, 30% in Germany, 29% in Sweden and 25% in the UK.

Essity believes the solution is to tackle such taboos head-on and has adopted an approach around “courageously and innovatively breaking those barriers to wellbeing”.​ Hansen explained: “Every day, millions of women, men and children refrain from going to work or school or from taking part in social events because of hygiene and health-related concerns.”

“We know that hygiene and health is the essence of wellbeing for every person on the planet, at every stage of life. It is a simple fact, but one full of complex challenges, from taboos and stigmas to a global need for sustainable development.”

Cross-collaboration throughout personal care

Continuing to generate alliances and holistic collaborations are at the forefront of eradicating taboos around menstrual health and hygiene, in order to ensure people have access to effective MHM.

“Partnerships are key to create progress on sustainable developments and educate, influence and captivate people on the topic of improving hygiene and to raise its awareness on a global scale,” ​emphasised Hansen. The wider personal care industry can support hygiene and health-related issues such as these, she said, by spreading the word and identifying ways to work together moving forward.

Understanding period poverty

Essity’s Essentials Initiative Survey 2021-2022​ revealed that millions of workdays and days in school are lost each year because people avoid attending due to the social stigmas they face and a lack of access to basic facilities, including hygiene products. In France alone, this amounts to 1.7 million days, the survey found.

The survey, which was carried out in partnership with the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC), showed that 47% of 15,000 respondents from 15 countries including France, Italy and Sweden, believe menstruation products should be free of charge to students and vulnerable groups, with 43% believing that taxes on menstrual products should be removed. 

The right to hygiene

Essity and UNICEF’s Hygiene is Our Right​ initiative aims to educate people worldwide about the importance of good hand hygiene, remove taboos around menstruation and bolster standards and guidelines that aid good hygiene and health.

Encouraging conversations on menstruation has been a key pillar of the duo’s efforts. The partnership has seen the organisations design the first app to track menstruation and provide education on menstrual hygiene, as well as launching various campaigns and digital activations including “Pass the Towel”.​ According to UNICEF, such actions have benefited almost 200,000 children and adolescents, as well as more than 3,000 teachers.

Menstrual health and hygiene critical yet lacking

Despite advances across healthcare, the improvement rate to menstrual health has decelerated, the United Nations (UN) Secretary General’s 2020 Progress Report​ found. This, together with the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, has presented an undeniable challenge and heightened concerns relating to global health and hygiene.

Around the world, 2.3 billion people lack basic sanitation services, UNICEF states​. In the least developed countries, just over a quarter (27%) of the population has access to a home handwashing facility with water and soap. Therefore, managing periods at home is a huge difficulty for people who lack essential health and hygiene resources in their homes.

“Health and hygiene are fundamental to guarantee the right to education, but if children and adolescents do not have drinking water services, lack facilities for proper hand washing and do not have access to supplies such as soap, hand towels and menstrual hygiene supplies, their right to health and education is diminished,” ​Irma Fabiola Acosta Manning, corporate fundraising officer at UNICEF, told CosmeticsDesign-Europe.

Growing hygiene awareness and education

Through insight-driven campaigns, brands hope to spark global dialogue and raise awareness around commonly unspoken issues on menstruation, as well as personal hygiene. “We believe that as long as conditions for everyday hygiene and health can be improved, there is an opportunity to improve wellbeing,” ​said Hansen.

In addition to bringing taboos and stigmas into the spotlight and promoting dialogue, brands such as Essity are working to create solutions through innovation and new technology that improves health care and hygiene. Tackling barriers to wellbeing through a holistic approach is also key to drive societal progress and showcasing this through engaging stories via campaigns and other events can also help.

“We are working together with the private sector to break down barriers and achieve social change, but there is still a long way to go,”​ said Manning.

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