March 8 is International Women’s Day, a day to celebrate the achievements of women and the role that they play in making the world a better place to live. The day also marks a call for change, reflecting on the progress that has been made in leveling the playing field between men and women, but that much more can be done.
The theme this year is a call for action: “Be Bold for Change.” Making moves that call for change is something we are familiar with. A few years ago, we launched Team SCA, the first all-female team to compete in the Volvo Ocean Race in more than 10 years. We wanted to show that women could compete fairly with men – in a sport that is dominated by men. And all-female Team SCA did – positively surprising the world along the way by winning a leg when all assumed they would not and also securing many in-port races. The effort brought about meaningful change. We inspired women of all ages and all over the world to reach for their dreams and recently we learned that the race organization has now changed its rules to be more welcoming to female sailors.
Globally, about 80 percent of the retail products that SCA makes are purchased by women. In Europe, our bold advertising campaigns for our feminine care products such as Bodyform help to shatter long-held taboos towards menstruation and sparked conversations on the topic.
We are certainly proud of efforts like these, but so much more can be done. The women who sailed for Team SCA were heroes to many, but we know that there are amazing women everywhere. This is especially true when it comes to hygiene matters. We know that women most often are the caregivers helping make a more hygienic world. But in many parts of the world it is not easy and the consequences are real.
In India, for example, we know from our global Hygiene Matters study that $97 USD is lost per person every year due to hygiene related issues, whether it be a lack of access to appropriate hygiene products or illnesses that develop as part of living in unclean environments. Women account for a large majority of this financial loss. We know that more than four out of every ten girls in West and Central Africa report missing at least one school day per month simply because they were having their period. And globally, we know that for aging baby boomers – men and women – incontinence will soon become an increasingly common health issue. Yet it is still talked about quietly and often with a sense of shame that we cover up by making light of the condition.
So much needs to change. And there is something we can all do right now – we can talk about these issues. Too often, hygiene matters are topics we rather skip. Talking about it makes us uncomfortable. In a recent study we conducted, we learned that 70 percent of women have never talked to their partner about hygiene issues. One can imagine that the percentage of men who have had these conversations is even lower.
When hygiene issues are holding back women, we all suffer. A daughter who does not attend school because she is “sick” a few days out of each month may not become the doctor who helps heal a village. A mother without access to clean water may not get to raise that child who helps to change the world.
It does not take a lot to do something bold for change when it comes to the world’s hygiene challenges and the impact they have on women every day. Sometimes we just need to start a conversation and talk about the things that normally make us uncomfortable. And that goes for both men and women.
Let us be bold for change and try to change that. Join us in a global conversation at www.hygienematters.com.