As much as 71 percent of Polish women believe they are not provided with equal opportunities in their careers, while 69 percent say that their gender affects their pay. Inequalities on the Polish labour market are widely discussed and a lot has changed in recent years, mainly thanks to the determination of women who are actively fighting for equal pay or for their rightful place on management boards.
However, the challenges are plentiful and one of them is as a mundane thing as access to menstrual products in the workplace. Would you say this is a private matter of every woman? Absolutely not. This involves women’s health and rights, namely the inalienable rights of every human being.
‘Equality means equal self-esteem of a man and a woman, equal support from your female or male manager. We seem to have forgotten about the basic needs of women along the way. We should take a close look at our companies and think whether we would really like out mother, sister or daughter to work there’, emphasised Dominika Kulczyk, President of the Kulczyk Foundation, which is the initiator of the Career Cycle campaign.
(No) shame on you!
Menstruation (yes, you can say it aloud!) is a natural physiological phenomenon experienced by almost a half of the population for most of their lives. Regardless, it is a reason why women around the world are still stigmatised and socially excluded. The menstruation taboo is doing fine. Menstruation is not talked about, menstruation is ignored or brushed away with embarrassing silence.
According to the American Thinx brand, 58 percent of women feel ashamed of their period, and almost three-quarters hide a sanitary pad or tampon on their way to the restroom (whoever does not do it, let them cast the first stone). Increasingly often – and rightly so – we come out as gay, we are not ashamed of our disability (and there is no reason to be!), we proudly sport our grey hair and celebrate birthdays in our fifties, but still and regardless of our position we are unable to admit we are indisposed at work. Or worse, we often lie to ourselves that everything is absolutely great. We grit our teeth in pain, calling ourselves drama queens in our mind. This is what we are expected to do, after all.
It is worth noting at this point that the problem affects not only working women, but also trans men, intersex people and non-binary people, among others.
In need of a friendly space
In its report, the Kulczyk Foundation finds that 17 percent of women in Poland missed work or school due to menstruation. And one in ten had to take time off from school or work for not having a sanitary pad during their period. As you can see, menstruation can become an obstacle to your professional development.
Menstruating women sometimes need to perform duties in onerous and uncomfortable conditions, often with limited access to restrooms. They are also discriminated against and considered as less efficient and not fully reliable. This, in turn, prevents them from landing interesting or prestigious projects.
‘We are only starting the journey to make us realise that instilling a sense of shame or fear in a half of the society carries enormous negative social consequences. And this is because of a process that is, after all, the most natural thing for women. Without this change there would be no life, there would be no us’, says Dominika Kulczyk.
It is time to realise that menstrual poverty is not a problem of third world countries. Polish women also face problems such as unavailability of menstrual products and sufficient restrooms (this is where you get into gender equality issues, sometimes without even realising it), the lack of reliable knowledge and stigmatising environment.
As long as menstruation remains an embarrassing topic, women will continue to experience the stress associated with it. Which is why we need a space that is friendly to women and menstruating people. A place where we can have unrestrained conversations about menstruation.
More than the most expensive CSR
That is the goal of the first edition of the nationwide campaign called Career Cycle. The Kulczyk Foundation together with its partners – the Polish Business Roundtable, the Employers of Poland, Okresowa Koalicja [Period Coalition] and Sukces Pisany Szminką [Success Written in Lipstick] – want to change the reality at Polish companies. The programme is aimed at employers who want to ensure gender equality and take care of the health and well-being of their employees.
How do we do it? By providing access to safe restrooms and making sanitary pads and tampons available in the workplace – which will not only have a practical dimension, but also a symbolic one, for this is how we can easily break the taboo – and by building a work environment in which the topic of menstruation is not ignored.
‘The premises of the “Career Cycle” are simple. The aim of the programme is to help employers create friendly workplaces for all employees, regardless of their gender. Starting with the most mundane needs – such as the availability of hygiene products and restrooms – through building awareness of menstrual health to bringing companies closer to the topic of gender equality’, argues Wojciech Kostrzewa, President of the Polish Business Roundtable.
Any company, institution, public administration body or social organisation may take part in the campaign. All they need to do is complete the declaration that can be found at cyklkariery.pl, and then implement changes to make life easier for women and menstruating individuals.
At the same time, it is worth to remember that an accessible pad can do more for women’s comfort at work than the most expensive HR strategy, argue the campaign organisers.
The campaign is sponsored by the UN Global Compact Network Poland and Omni Calculator. Wirtualna Polska and Money.pl are the media patrons of the programme. Read more about the campaign at: cyklkariery.pl.
By Monika Rosmanowska
The text was published at WP.pl on 31 January 2022