Most women experience more than 30 years of menstruation. The costs associated with menstruation products over a lifetime are not insignificant: in the UK they are estimated at £5,000. If affordability is a subject of discussion in high-income countries, this challenge is amplified in low-income sourcing countries. For example, although India declared tampons and sanitary napkins tax-free in 2018, most sanitary pads cost between 5 and 12 rupees (8-20 cents) per pad. For the nearly 276 million people who live on less than $1.90 a day, this is still far too expensive.
Menstrual hygiene is often considered a woman’s business, but our HERproject experience tells us that access to menstrual hygiene products and reliable information should be a business concern. Furthermore, with health resources being diverted away from core sexual and reproductive health to respond to COVID-19, access to menstrual hygiene products is especially important as businesses reopen across the globe.
In global supply chains, not addressing menstrual hygiene management (MHM) in the workplace can lead to significant social and financial costs for both workers and workplaces, such as reduced ability of workers to participate in the workforce, lower concentration and productivity levels, and increased absenteeism. This Menstrual Hygiene Day, HERproject is sharing insights and findings from HERproject programming in Ethiopia and India on the needs that women workers face and emerging good practice on how to support menstrual health in the supply chain.
Access to Products: Hawassa Industrial Park (IP), Ethiopia
In partnership with Enterprise Partners and UK AID, HERproject conducted a menstruation trial survey in Hawassa IP in 2019-2020 to test two reusable menstrual sanitary products.
In our baseline research involving 176 women factory workers, six percent of respondents reported missing one day of work in the past month, four percent reported missing two days of work, and three percent reported missing three days of work because of lack of access to menstruation products. However, worker testimonies suggest that many workers pushed themselves to stay at work when their period came unexpectedly despite not having access to products, because they could not afford to miss work.
Introducing reusable sanitary products in factories through our pilot program revealed a business case for access to products: factories reduced the cost of maintenance for toilets that had previously been clogged by disposable period management products. For workers, this means that workplace toilets are more comfortable to use. Such reusable products are also more affordable for workers, as women no longer need to purchase new disposable period products each month.
“When my period comes unexpectedly, I cover the blood stain with my jacket and stay for the rest of the day because I don’t want to miss work.” - Woman worker, Hawassa IP. June 2019
“I’ve witnessed multiple times workers staying seated on the line, even when they feel their period start, because they are ashamed of moving without having access to products. I’ve seen many of them finish their shift with blood-soaked skirts” - HR representative, Hawassa IP. June 2019
Access to Information: South India
In 2019, VF Corporation and HERproject partnered to carry out a pilot project on menstrual hygiene in VF supplier factories in South India to build awareness of menstrual hygiene, strengthen supporting health management systems, and explore options to support access to menstrual hygiene products.
The HERproject scoping study showed that the women lack fundamental knowledge about menstruation. Only 21 percent of the women interviewed said that they knew why women menstruate. Beyond low knowledge levels, it became evident that many of the persistent harmful social norms relating to menstruation are upheld by women workers and those around them—both men and women—in the family, community, and workplace. There is cultural reluctance to talk about menstruation.
Given this context, the pilot focused on developing and implementing four menstrual hygienetrainings, with extra focus on male engagement. Male workers and supervisors have taken an active interest in the project, which has helped to reduce taboos around menstruation and open conversations around women’s reproductive health. This interest from male workers and supervisors has in turn helped to engage factory managers in considering how to tackle poor menstrual health by creating and supporting an enabling environment.
HERproject’s experiences in Ethiopia and India show that awareness raising and access to products to promote menstrual hygiene are two sides of the same coin. In addition, reusable products have benefits for women and for factories. Finally, engaging men—who are often in supervisory or management level positions—is critical for creating more systemic changes around menstrual hygiene in the workplace.
To learn more about the business case for supporting menstrual hygiene and how you can get involved, please contact BSR.