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Employers must act to address ‘harmful taboos’ around periods, say campaigners

Campaigners have called on employers to address the “culture of discomfort and ignorance” around periods

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Employers must take proactive steps to address “harmful taboos” around menstruation, campaigners have warned, as research shows more than two-thirds of women in the UK have bad experiences at work because of their periods.

In a survey of more than 2,000 women by the Chartered Institute of Personnel and Development (CIPD), 69 per cent of participants said they had a negative experience at work because of their menstrual symptoms.

More than half said they had had to miss work because of their period symptoms, with one in five taking sick leave. Only one in 10 women said their organisation provided support for menstrual health.

Now campaigners have called on employers to address the “culture of discomfort and ignorance” around periods and implement policies that acknowledge the needs of women.

“It’s high time we address the glaring oversight of menstrual health in the workplace,” Clare Knox, CEO of the training provider See Her Thrive, told Femtech World.

“We have the power to change this narrative and create a workplace where every individual feels valued, respected and supported in managing their health needs.

“Ignoring this crucial aspect of employee health and wellbeing not only perpetuates harmful taboos but also undermines workplace inclusivity and support.”

Ruby Raut, founder and CEO of the period pants brand Wuka, said that considering that most women experience periods for about 40 years of their lives and spend significant time at work, workplaces must acknowledge the challenges associated with menstruation.

“Employers should normalise discussions about periods and recognise periods as a natural aspect of life, fostering a fairer and more supportive environment for all employees, regardless of gender.

“Additionally, offering accommodations such as flexible hours or rest areas for those experiencing discomfort during their period can greatly support employees’ wellbeing.”

Research shows period stigma, a term that refers to the negative perception of menstruation and those who menstruate, is still rife in the UK.

According to a survey by WaterAid published last year, eight in 10 women in the UK feel they are held back in their careers by taboos around periods, with a staggering 85 per cent reporting experiencing stress or anxiety when managing their periods at work.

Petchara Newson, business development coordinator at the period poverty charity Freedom4Girls, said it is disheartening to see that menstrual health continues to be overlooked in the workplace.

“The silence and stigma surrounding menstruation perpetuate a culture of discomfort and ignorance, making it challenging for women to access the support they need,” she told Femtech World.

“Employers must take proactive steps to address these issues and create a more inclusive environment for all employees. This includes implementing policies that acknowledge the needs of menstruators, such as providing menstrual products, offering flexible work hours or remote options and promoting open dialogue about menstrual health.”

Newson called for more education and awareness campaigns to “debunk” myths and misconceptions and tackle the lack of public understanding about menstruation.

“Educating managers is an incredibly important first step. If they are not equipped with the right knowledge, those with periods and especially heavy periods will not feel comfortable asking for support.”

Terri Harris, education and communication manager at Bloody Good Period, said employers should understand the unique experiences and challenges people face and act accordingly.

“Employers should focus on improving the communications, culture and broader policy around periods in the workplace – and at the heart of this all – tackle the stigma that too often still accompanies any discussion around menstruation.

“If stigma is not tackled, the result is that people who menstruate – no matter what workplace changes are put in place – will still struggle to get and ask for the appropriate support they need in the workplace,” she explained.

With the demand for reproductive health benefits on the rise, Lauren Berkemeyer, chief marketing officer at the insurtech firm Yu Life, said that companies that hope to remain attractive to employees in a tight labour market should do more to challenge “outdated attitudes” and support women.

“Women suffer from debilitating cramps or brain fog, things that hamper a their abilities to work, but are not seeking help. As a result, many drop out of work.

“Remote work options and flexible schedules are key solutions this problem. Second to that, I believe, are workplace benefits that provide menstrual and menopausal support.

“YuLife partners with great women’s health apps like Hertility and Stella which not only help women understand their bodies, but manage symptoms that stand in the way of them working.”

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Firm secures US$1.9m grant to support women entrepreneurs in Africa

eha Impact Ventures aims to support women-owned small- and medium-sized enterprises

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Evelyn Castle, chief executive officer at eHA Impact Ventures / Source: evelyncastle.com

The impact investing enterprise eHA Impact Ventures (EIV) has been awarded a US$1.9m grant from the non-profit organisation eHealth Africa (eHA) to support women entrepreneurs in Africa.

eHA’s board of directors approved the donation as part of its effort to “strengthen” healthcare delivery systems and support vulnerable populations.

The grant, the organisation said, will be deployed to “upscale” women-funded companies to improve the health and wealth of African women, their families and their communities.

The donation is hoped to address the US$42bn funding gap for women entrepreneurs in Africa and help female founders have better access to funding opportunities.

In addition, the funds are expected to support health interventions like the pre-screening of cervical cancer and improve delivery of blood and blood products to healthcare facilities.

“The grant will be instrumental in boosting the economic capacity of women across Africa by supporting high-impact women-owned businesses,” said Evelyn Castle, chief executive officer at EIV, who founded the firm in 2021.

“Furthermore, it will [help us] upscale funding, mentorship and training programmes to help women create thriving businesses that drive economic growth in their communities.”

My Le, board executive at eHealth Africa, said: “These donations could not have come at a better time as  women continue to struggle to meet up with both health and economic demands. Thus we are optimistic that the funds will go a mile in bridging fiscal gaps for women and other vulnerable groups to lead healthier lives.

“Supporting women will go a long way in not just improving their societal impact but also contribute immensely to sustainable development especially in the African region.”

Recognising women’s “vital” role in building strong health systems, Atef Fawaz, CEO of eHealth Africa, added: “We acknowledge the profound impact women have in strengthening healthcare systems, aligning with our vision at eHealth Africa.”

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Menstrual product wins innovation award in Switzerland

Egal’s innovation consists of a roll of pads that operates in a similar fashion to a toilet paper roll and comes in its own dispenser

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Penelope Finnie, chief executive officer at Egal

Pads on a Roll, a menstrual product that can be dispensed in public stalls similar to a toilet paper roll, has won a prestigious award at the Women’s Health Innovation Summit Europe in Basel. 

Each year the Women’s Health Innovation Summit (WHIS) helps promising start-ups raise their brand awareness and pitch their solutions in front of investors and industry leaders.

Egal, the company behind Pads on a Roll, has been honoured with this year’s Women’s Health Innovation award after the WHIS selection committee recognised the start-up as an innovative company poised to disrupt the European women’s health landscape.

“Egal Pads is so honoured to have been chosen for the Women’s Health Innovation award,” Penelope Finnie, Egal chief executive officer, told Femtech World.

“The other nine finalists were amazing companies run by wonderful people. The whole conference was a testament to the importance of the femtech movement.

“For us, it was particularly exciting as the EU is the next market we are focusing on. We hope that having period products available in stalls just like toilet paper is, will become the norm as it is necessary for equality.

“We also hope that by winning, it brings attention to this easily solved but long ignored issue,” Finnie added.

Egal’s innovation consists of a roll of pads that operates in a similar fashion to a toilet paper roll and comes in its own dispenser.

Egal aims to sell Pads on a Roll to universities and public schools

Each roll contains 40 pads and can be placed directly in stalls, unlike the typical tampon dispensers that often require money to access the products and are located outside the stall.

The pads are less expensive to maintain than products in vending machines because they are easier to refill, and require less space and packaging.

Research shows that 20 percent of girls in the US and UK have missed school due to lack of access to period products, with more than 90 per cent of menstruators having experienced jammed, broken or empty dispensers in public toilets.

Egal aims to solve this issue by selling Pads on a Roll to universities and public schools.

The Boston-based company has done pilots at various universities across the US and is hoping to develop a flushable version of the product in the future.

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‘It’s hard to stay healthy’- experts raise alarm over ‘pervasive’ economic challenges in US

A report highlighting women’s struggle with economic stress in the US has prompted experts to demand change

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Experts have raised concerns over the “pervasive” economic and health challenges women in the US are facing, after a damning report exposed significant financial stress.

national survey of women over 25 has found that American women face significant economic stress, with half of women reporting feeling “uncertain” or “worried” when thinking about how to pay for healthcare later in life and low-income and rural women reporting challenges to staying healthy today.

The report, which highlighted financial difficulties among women for the second year in a row, has prompted experts to speak out and demand change.

“The recent findings from the National Council on Aging (NCOA) and Women’s Institute for a Secure Retirement (WISER) underscore the pervasive economic and health challenges confronting American women, particularly those from low-income and rural communities,” Georgie Kovacs, women’s health expert and founder of Fempower Health, told Femtech World.

“Many women juggle caregiving responsibilities for their children while managing employment, often in environments that offer limited support.

“The scarcity of healthy food options in low-income areas, coupled with restricted access to essential healthcare services, exacerbates their daily struggles, impacting both their mental and physical health and that of their families.”

Underlining the “profound” impact of the menopause transition, Kovacs said women across the country are in desperate need of enhanced workplace policies and better access to specialised care.

“Our approach to addressing these challenges cannot be piecemeal – we require comprehensive systems that integrate childcare, health services, job security and mental health support, ensuring that no aspect of a woman’s health is overlooked,” she explained.

“It is imperative that we view the economic insecurities faced by women through a holistic lens, recognising the interconnectedness of health, employment and wellbeing.

“It’s time for all stakeholders, including government bodies and private sectors, to unite in crafting and implementing solutions that are as multifaceted as the lives of the women they aim to support.”

Katie Higgins, chief commercial officer at fertility benefits platform Progyny, called on employers to do more to support women, arguing that the pressure of financial uncertainty could “erode” self-esteem, strain relationships and compound parental stress.

“Balancing financial pressures with caregiving responsibilities can heighten feelings of guilt and inadequacy, impacting maternal mental health.

“Employers play a vital role in empowering women to prioritise their health without financial barriers through comprehensive benefits that include family building, fertility, maternal leave and menopause.”

Lois Quam, chief executive officer at sexual and reproductive health organisation Pathfinder International, noted that there is an important connection between health and income, meaning that women with the least financial resources often find themselves unable to access health services and modern innovations.

“From rural areas to the wealthiest cities in the world, women everywhere are being left behind. In the US and globally, they get paid and promoted less than men and leave the workforce at greater numbers to raise their children.

“Closing the gender pay gap could help keep women in the workforce, especially when childcare is so costly and inaccessible,” she told Femtech World.

Author and women’s health expert, Dr Mindy Pelz, encouraged women to “take control” of their health.

“It’s hard to stay healthy, even without the added pressure of economic stress,” she said.

“Many women just can’t rely on the American healthcare system to take care of them. That’s why I’m such an advocate for taking your health into your own hands.

“Simple lifestyle changes like intermittent fasting, meditation, cold exposure, walking 10,000 steps a day, avoiding electronics before bed might seem small on their own, but if you add them together and are consistent with them over time, they can make a huge difference.”

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