By failing to cater to the menstrual health needs of their workforce, corporates are failing to promote true gender equality within their business'.
Periods: The Inconvenient Truth
“Isn’t it funny,” said a woman at one of our period workshops this year, “the pantry of my office is laden with trendy teas and granola bars, yet today I had to make an emergency sanitary pad out of toilet paper because I started my period before a meeting?”
She happens to work for one of the top 5 financial institutions in Hong Kong, and indeed, the world. My team went to her office building - swanky indeed - and timed it. The nearest location to get organic cotton, viscose-free tampons or pads is a 15-minute walk away.
Try walking even 2 minutes in a Hong Kong summer with a make-shift toilet paper pad between your legs and you'll understand how unpleasant the notion of a 15-minute journey is.
So why is this a gender equality problem and is it the responsibility of corporates to change this?
Our 'Healthy & Planet-Friendly' workshops across Asia
Corporates falling short
Of the companies (all large, global institutions) that I have pitched to across Asia in the last two months, only 1 already stocked period care for their staff.
With this figure in mind, is it any wonder the most common word women use to describe their periods to me is ‘inconvenient?’
Inconvenient' is the last train home being cancelled or your supermarket running out of tacos on fajita night. ‘Inconvenient’ should not, in 2019, be the word synonymous with an experience shared by half the world’s population on a monthly basis.
And this inconvenience is specific to women. If you consider that men have toilets specifically designed to accommodate their anatomy and make it more convenient for them to urinate, the fact that period care is not easily accessible in corporate offices, in hotels, gyms or really anywhere in Asia, proves women's needs are still secondary to men's in our society.
Menstrual Health – not a ‘women’s issue’
“If we we did this, what would we do for our male employees?” the head of D&I for one of Hong Kong’s largest conglomerates told me in reaction to my pitch for our initiative, A New Normal, in which we seek to stock bathrooms across Asia with healthy & sustainable period products.
And therein lies the biggest issue we face with corporates – the perception of period health as a ‘woman’s issue’ at odds with gender equality, rather a fundamental gender equality issue in itself.
A workshop at The Canadian Embassy in Beijing
The status quo around menstrual health means that even today, no matter which glass ceilings we smash in our work or personal life, we are still subject to frustration and embarrassment on a monthly basis because of our female biology.
From interns to CEO's, women in offices across the world are forced to surreptitiously hunt emergency period care as if it's contraband, or stuff uncomfortable make-shift toilet roll pads between our legs. Ethical issues aside, we just have more important things to do. Like our jobs, for example.
And if the lives of society's empowered women are still hindered by menstruation, what chance do the millions of women and girls from low income communities have of breaking restrictive menstrual taboos?
As such, I believe period stigma is the biggest barrier to the global advancement of woman and girls and it is our obligation to change this.
Olivia giving a period cup workshop in Hong Kong earlier this year
From 'inconvenient' to life-threatening
It's important that corporates also comprehend the dangerous health implications of failing to bring period health into common practice.
Responsible doctors will attest to the fact that we should not have to miss work or restrict our lives because of debilitating periods. That's not how our bodies are designed. If negative symptoms can't be resolved with lifestyle changes, they are likely the signs of an underlying health issue that needs medical treatment.
However the status quo for women today is that at least 1 in 4 have missed work more than once this year because of such period problems, with companies readily signing this off rather than supporting women who are suffering to seek help.
Attitudes like this mean that chronic diseases like endometriosis, which around 1 in 10 women globally suffer from, still take 10 years to diagnose, with symptoms often dismissed as 'just bad periods.'
Even if you don't care about the ethics of this issue, consider your bottom line and how many of your employees are either not coming to work or sat in the bathroom during their period hunched over in pain.
Don't get me wrong, I know the status quo requires shifting on many levels, and it cannot be done by corporates alone. However, as institutions with the budgets to fund these initiatives and often with public declarations to promote health, wellbeing and gender equality within their walls, I think it's a very good place to start.
One of our social initiative partners in Asia who provide LUÜNA products to their communities of underprivileged young girls.
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