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A new global survey by feminine hygiene brand Libresse has highlighted what every modern woman knows: periods are one of women’s biggest concerns. they just don’t dare speak about it. The survey sample included over 10 000 men and women aged 13 to 50 from countries France, UK, Netherlands, Sweden, But Mexico, Argentina, China, Malaysia and South Africa.
Even in this day and age, menstruation is still hidden at work, not discussed at home, hushed up at school and never, ever seen in public. We’ve all grown up with the same social conditioning: ‘menstruation’ remains a taboo topic, which nearly half of women in the survey feel has a major stigma attached to it.
Some of the survey results are shocking, if not surprising. More than half (52%) of women in the workplace would rather ask their boss for a pay rise than admit they are having their period in the office. The same number of parents would rather talk about sex to their daughters than periods. Horrifyingly, 56% of teens said that they would rather get bullied at school than talk about their periods with their parents. The survey suggests that women and girls still feel self-conscious and ashamed of menstruation, even to the point of feeling uncomfortable when purchasing tampons or pads.
Libresse brand manager Mpho Nojiwa says the survey findings suggest that as a global society we need to change the way we talk about menstruation if we are to challenge the deeply ingrained taboos and culture of shame. This causes millions of girls worldwide to grow up loathing their period and limiting their participation in everyday activities during their menstrual cycle.
Bringing it home – is talking about periods in South Africa ‘woke’, or is it still something that we are ashamed to do?
According to Nojiwa, South Africa is not in the same boat as our European counterparts who are just only breaking out of their shell now and being bold. “We are way ahead of them in terms of educating our girls on menstruation and talking openly about periods and vaginal health with women of all ages,” she says.
For years, Libresse has made in-roads at school-level with talks delivered to young girls about period care but they took their education drive a step further in 2017, with the launch of their Vagina Varsity. This ground-breaking concept provided women, young and old, with a platform where they could learn about their bodies in a private, safe setting, guided by professionals. (The Vagina Varsity course is a mix of short video content and extra bonus material in email-format, covering everything from anatomy to discharge, contraception and when to see a doctor).
Furthermore, years of campaigning by women’s rights groups across South Africa have resulted in a major breakthrough around adequate access to sanitary products for women. The decision by government to put sanitary pads on the VAT zero-rating list will make making feminine hygiene products slightly more accessible from 1 April 2019.
“Our aim is to continue to empower and educate South African women of all ages in order to break the misinformation, fear and secrecy around menstruation. It’s a natural, necessary, and inevitable bodily process that should form part of critical conversations, without the cringe-factor,” concludes Nojiwa.

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