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I think of all the young girls and women around the world who cannot participate in society – for whatever reason. For the women who are viewed by their own families as impure or even contagious simply for having their periods. They are punished, isolated, even at the risk of death.
I also think of the young girls I met in a township in Cape Town when we together with one of our UN partners, the Water Supply and Sanitation Collaborative Council, the WSSCC, trained and shared knowledge with girls about puberty, menstruation, hygiene and health. I think of the one girl who came up to me asking for advice: “Joséphine, what do you do when boys and men want you to do something you don’t want to do? Do you hit them?”
Violence and punching are not the solution!!
We need change! We need to work together to educate and break taboos. Now! Social stigma or cultural norms around hygiene often leave women excluded and threatened.
No one can do everything, but everyone can do something - as companies and as individuals.
For Essity, a global leader in hygiene and health, every day is International Women’s Day. The Sustainable Development Goals, with SDG nr 5´s commitment to achieving gender equality, is built into our way of doing business. We view it as part of our responsibility to support in empowering women, closing the gender gap and breaking the taboos that hold back women and girls.
As a company with operations in 150 countries and products that touch over one billion people every day, we play our part. We do so through our products, services and our voices. We make essential and necessary products – that is why we are called Essity. Examples are everything from Tork paper towels, to feminine and baby care, incontinence products, tissue and medical solutions like wound care.
Our global survey on hygiene and health shows that nearly half of female respondents experience social discomfort during their periods. One example of how we are working to break taboos is through a campaign of Essity’s feminine care brand called “No Blood Should Hold Us Back” aiming at breaking down taboos around the menstrual cycle and exercise. It shows strong and courageous girls and women – just as uncompromising and authentic as we are. The follow-up campaign “Blood Normal” pictured periods as a normal part of life, and it was the first time a campaign for these kinds of products showed realistic red liquid instead of the traditional blue seen in feminine product ads for as long as I can remember.
According to UNICEF, 9 out of 10 girls in Mexico experience abuse by a boyfriend or husband. Many others face violence and harassment in school, at home, at work and in public places. Given this crisis, Essity Mexico with our feminine care brand, Saba, partnered with UNICEF to provide accurate information and foster an open dialogue among adolescents, their families and friends to detect and prevent high risk situations before they spiral into violence. The initiative, called “#Hablemos Todo”, in English: “Let´s talk about everything”, has reached 7.5 million adolescents through social media actions, communications platforms, as well as messages printed on actual feminine care pads. Here we also reached and educated young boys.
Another important area, seldomly talked about, is incontinence, defined as a set of chronic diseases (classified by the WHO). It affects the life of approximately 400 million people worldwide. One in three women over 35 and one in four men over 40 deal with urine leakage worldwide, and the number is growing. Ensuring that we respond to the individual needs of people affected by incontinence is a global quest by Essity. Considering it is a matter still largely stigmatized in society, and often viewed as a highly personal issue, we need to start talking about how to overcome this.
At Essity, we also educate millions every year on the importance of Water Sanitation and Health such as effective handwashing and educating health care professionals and care giving relatives. We have partnered with the United Nations Foundation to advance global dialogue on private public partnership to accelerate progress in achieving the Sustainable Development Goals. A photo says more than a thousand words. That is why we are also partners with Swedish museum of Photography, Fotografiska. Together we make exhibitions, live and virtual via social media, based on the theme hygiene and health. This year Fotografiska will also open a museum in NY.
Again, no one can do everything, but everyone can do something. One thing which we can all do, is to act and raise our voices and talk about taboos and stigmas and the change we need.
I am proud that Essity is committed to gender equality and advocates for girls and women to have equal opportunities in society.