April 7th was the World Health Organization’s World Health Day; what better time to talk about menstrual health and hygiene?
The traditionally taboo nature of this topic is changing. One sign of that is the emergence of a global observance called Menstrual Hygiene Day, on May 28. Menstrual Hygiene Day is a global platform that raises awareness of the challenges women and girls worldwide face due to their menstruation and highlights solutions that address these challenges. NPR called 2015 The Year of the Period. In July 2016, New York City Mayor Bill DeBlasio signed a local law providing free tampons for New York’s schools, jails, and shelters. “There should be no stigma around something as fundamental as menstruation,” said de Blasio.
Ann Germanow, past president and sustaining member of the Junior League of Rochester has some great stories to tell about how she became a successful cause-minded social entrepreneur. It began 13 years ago, when she was working in the field of gerontology and entered her workplace restroom. She came upon a sign asking women not to flush tampons— the company couldn’t afford more plumbing bills. The alternative, a metal receptacle attached to the stall partition was anything but sanitary, and quite lacking in any dignity. With a daughter nearing puberty, Ann decided there had to be a better way.
After much market research, Ann debuted her first product: Scensibles personal disposal bags for feminine care products. The bags are single-use, designed with a contemporary pink-on-pink floral pattern and delicate scent. The tie handle closure conceals the contents and antimicrobial agents built into the bag inhibit the growth of odor causing bacteria (the product line has since grown to include disposal systems and liners, and larger bags for bladder control products). While Ann initially thought she’d be selling to consumers, her largest market has been installations in public restrooms. Among her clients are the State of Washington ferry system, Disneyland, WEGMANS Food Markets, Justice clothing stores, Amazon distribution centers and numerous colleges and universities. (And they can also be purchased in decorative packaging for home/personal use directly through the Scensibles bags website and Amazon, with a Five Star customer rating).
But to take a step back, before the initial product launch, Ann’s research found that: SNAP benefits (formerly food stamps), and WIC cannot be used to buy any personal care items; including sanitary pads and tampons. Girls and women in the U.S. lose time from work and school because of the cost of or access to basic products that are a necessity not a luxury. From the very start, Ann was committed to ensuring that economically disadvantaged teens and women have ready access to feminine care products (including Scensibles) in a dignified manner; and to create awareness around the issue.
Shortly after starting Scensibles, Ann began to field calls asking for contributions of sanitary pads and Scensibles bags for charitable events, schools, and agencies that serve women.. She soon discovered that the need in her own community was great – the poverty rate in Rochester is 32.9%. In addition to providing 500-600 period starter kits per year to Rochester City School District, Scensibles is the corporate sponsor of National Council of Jewish Women, Greater Rochester Section’s “P.A.D.” (Privacy, Access, Dignity) project, which puts together menstruation kits for distribution in the region. In 2012, Ann hosted her first PAD Party, a pampering event held at a local spa. For the “entrance fee” of a box of feminine care products, guests received mini manicures, chair and hand massages, enjoyed refreshments and socialized. The events are also important in creating awareness of this problem and helping women lead healthier lives by having access to feminine hygiene protection products in a dignified manner.
And what does Ann have to say about the role the Junior League has played in her life? “The Junior League gave me the confidence to go into unchartered territory, and the conviction to move forward no matter what obstacles I faced.”
If you’re a Junior League concerned about menstrual hygiene for women and girls, here are some ways you can get involved:
Join the global Menstrual Hygiene Day movement this year by hosting a collection drive for menstrual hygiene products in your community.
Add menstrual hygiene products to your existing food and diaper drives
Add menstrual hygiene to your Little Black Dress Initiative
Break the taboo by celebrating the coming of age for girls