Working with members to tackle period stigma

Members have been helping our Health and Beauty buying team understand more about their attitudes towards periods and the stigma around menstruation.  

Period poverty has been a prominent political issue in recent years. In 2017, we took a leading position on this, reducing the retail price of women’s sanitary products by 5% to cover the cost of the so-called ‘Tampon tax.’  

There is no doubt that conversations around periods are still regarded as a taboo by many people in society, and that this, in turn, contributes to the issue of period poverty.  

As the buyer of Femcare in the Co-op, I was keen to work with members to understand more about how they talked about periods, how they managed them and what they felt about their period education to ensure that their points of view could inform long term decisions around initiatives that can help to reduce period poverty in the UK.   

I was overwhelmed by the open and frank way in which hundreds of members shared their perspectives, but saddened to hear that, for many of our members, periods still carry a huge weight of embarrassment whilst others struggle with a range of physical, emotional and mental health issues as a result of their periods.  

Here’s a few things I learned: 

  • The vast majority of members tend to refer to their menstruation as ‘periods’ or ‘time of the month’ 
  • Members had mixed experiences of period education in school, though only 6% said that their period talk covered ‘everything they needed to know’.  
  • Most members are reasonably comfortable talking to their partner about periods  
  • 2 in 3 members have spoken to their children about periods. Where members had not, it was principally down to the age, but also gender, of their children  
  • Whilst the most common response was ‘I’m not sure’ about the idea of reusable sanitary products, considerably more members thought it was either ‘excellent’ or ‘good’ than those who thought it was a bad idea.  
  • 35% said they had been in a position where they struggled to pay for sanitary ware. 

It was interesting to hear members’ views on reusable sanitary products, particularly as we’ve recently started to stock menstrual cups – from the fantastic Hey Girls social enterprise – in some of our stores. Members clearly recognised the environmental benefits of these products and the positive impact that their use could have on waste, in particular, but also financially. It’s good to have more detail in relation to members’ thoughts on sustainable products, especially given the necessary focus on single-use plastic where Femcare is currently performing below target and expectations. 

I was surprised to learn that 24% of members did not remember if they had any form of education surrounding periods and puberty. And another eye opener for me was that the majority of members who did receive education around puberty and periods left feeling ‘embarrassed.’ Admittedly, their education may have been some time ago, but we want women and men to feel empowered and knowledgeable about their bodies. If anything, the female body should be celebrated! 

A huge thanks to all the members who took part. The learnings will now help my team and I shape the future Co-op own label range and help us work up some longer-term initiatives surrounding Period Poverty and sustainability.  

There are always opportunities available for members to shape their Co-op. If you’re a member, head to your member account now to see how you can get involved today.  

Victoria Haigh,
Category Buyer Femcare 

Read more on how members shape our Co-op;