Whisper, India’s leading feminine hygiene brand, has pledged to reach out and extend its flagship Mother Daughter Menstrual Health and Hygiene Program to five crore girls by the end of 2022. As part of its commitment to increase menstrual hygiene in the country, the brand will reach out to more than 40,000 schools across India.
The pledge was made by the brand at the ‘Need to Break Silence and Build Awareness’ event organised by Assocham to mark the occasion of ‘World Menstrual Hygiene Day that falls on May 28. Vandana Gurnani, Joint Secretary, Ministry of Health & Family Welfare, Government of India, was the Chief Guest at the event, which was attended by Padma Shri and classical dancer and activist Geeta Chandran and Foroogh Foyouzat from UNICEF India among other senior representatives from the government, industry and social organisations working towards menstrual hygiene education.
Suman and Sneha, whose true story about a quiet revolution against the stigma of menstruation was featured in the Oscar-winning documentary, ‘Period: End of Sentence’, were present at the event as special guests.
Since its inception in 1995, Whisper’s Mother Daughter Menstrual Health and Hygiene Program has already educated more than 2.5 crore girls about menstrual hygiene till last year.
The programme consists of a two-hour long interactive session that educates girls about biological changes at puberty, the menstrual cycle, importance of maintaining hygiene during periods, importance of using safe and hygienic menstrual hygiene products and proper disposal of sanitary pads. This is done through live demonstrations, storytelling, videos and role play. The brand has learnt that for effective habit change and to break the silence and apprehensions around periods, mothers must play a significant role. Mothers of girls are also invited to be a part of the programme. The session has helped break the ice between mother and daughter, and ensures a support system at home for every girl.
Chetna Soni, Associate Director & Country Leader, Feminine Care, P&G, said, “The biggest opportunity for the menstrual hygiene category lies in providing access and awareness of healthy menstrual hygiene practices among women across the country.”
To date, even in urban India, less than 50% of women use healthy menstrual hygiene protection such as pads and for the rural woman and girl, this is even lower. “As the industry, our focus should be to increase awareness and adoption of good quality and safe menstrual hygiene. Our pledge to extend the reach of our Menstrual Health & Hygiene Program to educate over five crore adolescent girls about menstrual hygiene by 2022 is in line with this vision. We invite relevant stakeholders across the board – government, social institutions and corporates – to come together and partner with us on this initiative,” said Soni.
Soni highlighted the significance of tackling period taboos head-on, “To date, we continue to fight taboos and societal restrictions relating to periods that girls face and lend our voice to empower them to be unstoppable, even during their periods. The conversations that we witness on periods, that appear so obvious today, were a huge challenge not so long ago.”
A monumental change has taken shape, starting with Whisper’s Cannes Glass Lion Winning campaign, ‘Touch the Pickle’, in 2014, where the brand encouraged and enabled women to talk about and confront period taboos in society. Touch the Pickle was momentous because it was the first time anybody addressed taboos surrounding periods head-on.
In the years following that campaign, the brand has seen a heartening increase in conversations around the importance of healthy menstrual hygiene across the board – be it from the Government, noted social organisations and NGOs or from popular influencers in Bollywood.
“In fact, having personally worked towards driving menstrual hygiene in developing markets across Asia-Pacific, Middle East and Africa, with immense pride, I can vouch for the fact that the issues around period taboos is not only limited to India, but India has emerged as one of the first in the world to be openly tackling these taboos. This change though has not come around without a great amount of difficulty,” said Soni.
Whisper began the journey to normalise menstruation about three decades ago. It was the first brand to show a sanitary pad, and the first to mention the word ‘periods’ in advertising. At that time, when the brand wanted to advertise on prime time, TV channels thought it was an inappropriate product to advertise. Whisper then got special permission, in order to be the first sanitary pad brand to advertise on prime time Indian television.
Talking on a positive note towards the challenge of menstrual hygiene in India, Soni added, “We sometimes overlook the fact that the present is still a massive, massive improvement from where we started off.”
When Whisper entered the market in 1989, very few women and girls were using good quality menstrual hygiene products during their periods. The menstrual hygiene products category then was very small at only Rs 34 crore and today it has grown 100x. “I see this as a reassurance that while the progress has been gradual, all these efforts are leading up to an incredible change on an everyday basis. It is with this belief that we will continue working towards 100% menstrual hygiene awareness and access in India,” Soni pointed out.