On May 4th, Johnson and Johnson hosted a lunchtime brown bag discussion on the theme of women’s empowerment, featuring Ms. Unjela Kaleem, Head of External Affairs, Communications, and Country Support at WSSCC, and Ms. Sané Mbhele, Brand Manager of Stayfree at Johnson and Johnson. The lunchtime event bridged the gulf between the agendas of a large multinational and the United Nations, and shed light on how to forge a more inclusive, gender equal world.
Kaleem, a passionate advocate for gender equality, social justice and breaking the silence on menstrual hygiene management, focused her presentation on the 1.2 billion women who lack access to basic sanitation and hygiene, from childhood to motherhood and on to their twilight years. With half of the world’s population experiencing menstruation on a monthly basis over a 30 year period of their lives, the economic and social consequences of not managing menstruation safely and effectively are significant. In every country and at every social level, the veil of silence around menstruation contributes to sexism that can hold women back in their personal lives and professional careers – Kaleem sought to break the taboo surrounding a women’s monthly cycle.
“The average woman menstruates for 3000 days in her lifetime, however the subject is hidden by taboos preventing women from learning how to manage their periods hygienically and safely,” said Kaleem.
Mbhele spoke about how Stayfree works to give girls the comfort and confidence to continue their education and manage their menstrual hygiene at school. Johnson and Johnson runs a #StayfreeToLearn campaign, which speaks to the company’s commitment to the communities in which we live and work. Every year, the #StayfreeToLearn Schools Programme educates over 500 000 girls about puberty and menstrual hygiene. This helps girls to understand that what they are experiencing is both natural and normal, and helps them to grow their self-confidence.
“Our aim is to create awareness about the need to give every young girl access to education about puberty to understand their natural cycle; clean bathroom facilities to manage their menstrual hygiene at school; and access to sanitary pads at school,” said Mbhele.
There were over forty people in attendance at the event, with active participation from the audience. The overall message was clear – the menstrual taboo is universal and, regardless of whether you work for a global multinational company or a United Nations organization, it is imperative that girls and women can at once manage menstrual hygiene with safety and dignity, have greater mobility, attend school and take steps to realize their productive potential.
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