Since 1989, leading global hygiene company SCA, which offers feminine towels, liners, tampons and other fem care products globally under brands such as Libresse, Saba, Nosotras, has put forth major efforts to combat misinformation on menstruation and inaccessibility to products by offering feminine hygiene education sessions to countries all over the world. According to SCA’s 2014 sustainability report, 12 million girls and women—from countries in Latin America, Asia and Europe—have participated in this program since the sessions began. According to Harold Smolders, vice president communications, all sessions are conducted locally, and in Colombia alone, 900,000 girls have attended the company’s programs. “During these sessions girls were educated about what happens to their bodies during puberty and when they have their period,” he says.
In developing nations, various religious, cultural or traditional beliefs have led to many misconceptions surrounding menstruation. Citing the 2013 WaterAid Global Annual Report, Smolders says half of the girls in Iran and one in 10 girls in India believed menstruation was a disease. “The same study revealed that one out of three girls in South Asia knew nothing about menstruation prior to experiencing it,” he adds.
In countries like India, Nepal and Sri Lanka, taboos and superstitions about menstruating women being impure or unclean are passed down from generation to generation, according to Smolders. Also, in some parts of the world girls and women are prohibited from praying or entering a mosque during menstruation, and there is also a belief in the religion, as well is in parts of Africa, that food will go bad if touched by a woman on her period. “These restraining traditions often isolate the girls and make them feel dirty and ashamed of their bodies and of the bleeding. The fact is that in most of the developing world, women have very limited access to female hygiene products and have no option but to use unsanitary material such as old rags, husks, sand, wood ash, dried leaves and grass or newspapers to contain the flow of menstrual blood.”
As part of its efforts to eradicate misinformation about menstruation, SCA began a partnership with the UN Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council (WSSCC) last year. “Through this partnership, SCA aims to break the menstrual taboos that jeopardize the health of millions of women every day and raise awareness of the importance of good menstrual hygiene,” Smolders says.
In November 2014, SCA and WSSCC held their first training session, which took place outside Cape Town, South Africa, with girls from the Khayelitsha and Gugulethu townships. In conjunction with SCA’s female crew in the Volvo Ocean Race, 30 girls participated in a training session on menstrual hygiene management. Experts from WSSCC taught the girls about their bodies, the importance of good hygiene during menstruation and that they should not feel ashamed but should feel pride.
The program also made its way to Haikou, China, in connection to the Volvo Ocean Race stopover in Sanya, China, in February. Nearly 30 girls, ages 10 to 12, participated in the session where they were able to discuss the same topics.
In May SCA and WSSCC hosted a joint seminar at the UN headquarters in New York City discussing how the taboo surrounding menstruation affects women’s role in society and how partnerships between the private sector, the UN and governments can make a difference. A prominent group of stakeholders, representing NGO’s, UN bodies, policy makers and industry were in attendance.
SCA continued its efforts in June when it organized a series of seminars—“ “Women Empowerment as a Game Changer on Hygiene Initiatives”—where representatives from SCA and SWA (Sanitation and Water for All) discussed the need to break taboos surrounding feminine hygiene, especially in developing nations.
At the seminar Kersti Strandqvist, SVP Sustainability, SCA, said, “SCA invests in educational programs, such as menstruation and puberty and parental education, helping to clarify questions about menstruation and the importance of good hygiene. SCA also focuses on adaptation to local needs in the entry to new countries, seeking to understand what they need more rather than imposing their products.”
In addition to these joint initiatives with WSSCC, SCA has committed to improving the availability and accessibility to products in developing markets. According to Smolders, the company has been improving the distribution of fem hy products to mom and pop-type shops, offering a more economic product assortment, and offering smaller pack sizes to improve the affordability and accessibility of feminine care products to women in the poorer regions of the developing world.
“SCA will continue - under our own direction and where relevant with partners - with our feminine hygiene and daily intimate care education sessions and seminars in an effort to further educate and ensure access to affordable and sustainable hygiene solutions and help women lead a healthy and dignified life,” he says. “This means more education around menstruation/periods and the female physical development in general, as well as supporting training programs that help deal with taboos and myths around menstruation.”