Procter & Gamble’s Always, longtime champion of girls’ confidence and global access to feminine-hygiene products, is turning its attention to menstrual inequities here in the U.S., with an #EndPeriodPoverty campaign linked to the back-to-school season.
It’s yet another sign of sweeping global changes in the way women and girls expect marketers to talk about periods. P&G says the new effort is based on its research findings that one in five American girls have left school early or not shown up at all because they lacked tampons or sanitary napkins.
That problem, obviously, isn’t new. But big-name brands talking about it is. The shift started bubbling up in 2013, with the serious, like the launch of the Free the Tampons movement, and the lighthearted, like the viral video from Hello Flo, which partners with Kotex, owned by P&G rival Kimberly-Clark.
Next came widespread discussions of taxes on tampons, which many regard as discriminatory, and even legislative changes.
NPR even declared 2016 “the year of period,” and last year, Bodyform in the U.K. won global acclaim (and some major awards) for daring to show a sanitary pad absorbing liquid that was red and not blue.
A few months ago, Meghan Markle, the newest member of the England’s Royal Family, announced that menstrual equity will be one of her primary causes.
“There has been a significant shift in the way people think and talk about these products,” says Nancy Kramer, global chief evangelist at IBM iX and founder of Free the Tampon, a movement she started with a TEDx Talk back in 2013.
“There’s not a woman I talk to who, when she realizes her daughter could be caught without what she needs at school and be subject to bullying or a humiliating experience as a result, isn’t all in.”
Always is teaming up with actress Gina Rodriguez, star of “Jane the Virgin,” as well as long-time partner Feeding America, the nonprofit that runs some 200 food banks, and hopes to distribute an additional 15 million period products to school kids this year. Over the last 10 years, it’s given away some 80 million products around the world as part of an educational program.
In Always’ latest program, each time someone posts a “throwback” school photo on the company's social-media sites, it will donate a dozen period products to Feeding America through Aug. 21. And for anyone who buys a package of Always until Sept. 8, the brand will donate a period product to help the cause.
Kramer, who’s not connected to the P&G effort, disagrees with the concept of using donations to help. “My position has always been the same. Whoever is responsible for buying toilet paper should pay for pads and tampons. It’s the same thing. It’s a bodily function we don’t have any control over.”
It’s a mission Kramer has been committed to since 1982, when she discovered on a business trip that Apple Computer stocked free period products in its bathrooms. Besides taking her passion project to schools, workplaces and restaurants, she’s even consulted with a manufacturer on a dispenser that uses a timer to prevent people from taking too many products at once.
“I’m really proud of the activation that’s happening all over,” she says. “I’ve said to my daughters that before I die, I hope we change a socially accepted norm into something completely different.”