Why periods are political – and how brands can influence change

Last month New Zealand followed in Scotland’s footsteps by announcing steps to tackle period poverty, offering free period products in primary and secondary schools. Authorities were concerned that female students had been missing classes because they couldn’t afford access to essential products like tampons and period pads.

It’s probably no surprise that both New Zealand and Scotland – the first countries to introduce this type of initiative – are led by women, but as we discussed in our last blog, we need to make the subject of period health, period poverty and product sustainability everyone’s business.

In the past few weeks, we’ve seen a renewed push from femcare brands shining a spotlight on issues relating to female health. Bodyform tackled the subject of endometriosis – a highly painful medical condition that is suffered by 176 million people globally – as part of its #Painstories campaign.

ModiBodi, meanwhile, brought its ‘controversial’  ‘The New Way To Period’ ad to the UK – a spot that was subject to a Twitter storm after Facebook banned it in Australia (apparently it’s offensive to show period blood).

While these campaigns prompt further discussions about people’s experiences with periods, more needs to be done to address the issue of period poverty and access to menstrual products. Brands are part of this fight because they have the capital and resource to rally against injustice, particularly when it comes to making the issue more visible in the eyes of consumers and politicians.

The so-called ‘tampon tax’ was abolished in January 2021. This helped to improve affordability and accessibility of period products – a huge step in the right direction, but unfortunately not all period products apply. Ruby Raut, founder of sustainable period pants brand WUKA, recently appeared on Woman’s Hour to discuss her campaign to remove the period tax on period underwear. The Government considers period pants to be a garment, so consumers purchasing these products are required to pay tax.

It took over 20 years of campaigning by women’s rights activists to force the UK Government to abolish the tampon tax. No doubt WUKA has a big job on its hands – but Raut’s campaign is gaining momentum and underlines the importance of speaking up for your audience and fighting for what is right.

At the PHA Group, we lead consumer and corporate awareness campaigns that enable ambitious brands to lobby for meaningful change. In short, we influence public behaviour and perceptions for the better. Period poverty and accessibility to period products is a hidden issue in the UK.  1 in 10 girls can’t afford to buy menstrual products, while 1 in 7 have struggled to afford them. Yet our own research shows that, when compared against other poverty types, period poverty has an online share of voice (SOV) of 15.3% – a stark contrast to food poverty which receives 67.4% SOV.

Brands can engage with the media to offer their stance on what needs to happen to tackle issues related to period poverty and menstruation education. For starters, compelling thought leadership that offers a unique perspective on the issue will help to build credibility amongst key target audiences and put the issue firmly on the radar – not just on a consumer level, but also within Government.

Leveraging research and data can also be of huge value. For example, if you can shift the focus from the human-interest piece and prove that addressing period poverty will benefit the economy by XX% over a five-year period, you are offering a valuable proof point that can analysed and dissected by a sometimes sceptical media.

And finally, never underestimate a dedicated public affairs push. Two years ago an MP shocked Government officials when she announced she was on her period during PMQs. Her aim was to shine a light on period poverty in the UK and to speed up decisions related to the period tax. This bold approach forced the Government to engage with the issue and address matters relating to menstruation education and accessibility to products. Without buy-in from the top, as well as grassroots consumer-led movements, very little can be achieved.

If you would be interested in discussing how we could help your femcare brand influence public policy and consumer perceptions, get in touch with our award-winning team today to discuss how we could support you.

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