Kotex launches P-Word survey 

Period sentiment is shifting, but stigmatisation and period poverty still prevail in South Africa, survey reveals.

A young woman reading a magazine (Getty Images)

In celebration of Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May, Kotex released the results of its inaugural P-Word survey – a study that seeks to better understand women’s relationships with their menstrual cycles while analysing shifting societal attitudes and perceptions.

The survey reveals that although women’s feelings and experiences surrounding their menstrual cycles appear to be shifting from negative to neutral and even positive, stigmatisation still exists in communities. Additionally, access to menstrual products and education remains a challenge in South Africa. 

Commenting on this is Caitlin Meredith, marketing manager at Kotex who explains that the ‘P-Word’ survey was born from a desire to identify and understand where gaps in knowledge exist around the menstrual cycle.

“This will equip us to better educate women and communities, as well as to normalise menstruation through open dialogue,” she says.

A shift in sentiment

The survey was conducted among a sample of women from informal settlements; rural areas and urban low, middle and high-income areas across the country. It revealed that the majority (46.5%) of women felt ‘neutral’ about their experience with their menstrual cycle, while 38.3% felt positive. Only 15.2% felt negative, which may point towards more women enjoying a healthier relationship with their cycle.

However, in seeming contrast to this, 60% of respondents reported experiencing the highest levels of discomfort and pain during their menstrual cycle, while 46% said menstruation affected their daily activities, such as work, school and socialising. 

Medical doctor and Kotex brand ambassador, Nosipho Mhlanga says: “This disconnection between sentiment and discomfort/disruption could indicate that women are used to sweeping any pain or discomfort under the rug and not speaking about it, so we should view this result through a nuanced lens.” 

Stigmatisation persists

While, at first glance, it may appear as though period sentiment is changing among women, it seems that in communities, stigmatisation still exists. 

Forty-three (43) per cent of women admitted to experiencing stigmatisation and shame attached to menstruation, which was more prevalent among those aged 18 and younger. 

Thirty-eight (38) per cent of women said religious and cultural beliefs influenced menstrual perceptions and practices in their area, while 12% of women said there was a negative perception of menstruation in their community. One respondent admitted that “there are cultural and religious taboos around menstruation, including restrictions on cooking and touching sacred objects,” while another said that menstruation was associated with bad luck and impurity, and girls were expected to stay at home during their periods. 

“The survey also revealed to us that nearly one in four women didn’t feel comfortable discussing menstrual health issues with their healthcare providers,” says Dr Mhlanga. 

Period poverty prevails 

The survey showed that period poverty – which refers to a lack of accessibility and affordability of menstrual products and education – is rife in SA, with 39% of women saying that menstrual products were not readily available to them. Moreover, the vast majority (78%) of respondents admitted to facing financial constraints when purchasing menstrual products.

Six in 10 women believed that there was not enough education around menstruation in schools and communities, while one in four women have never received any form of menstrual education. 

Respondents highlighted a need for free or cheaper menstrual products, more initiatives that support girls who have started menstruating, and better menstrual education. In an effort to address this issue, Kotex launched the Stay YOUnique School Programme – an initiative that provides grade 6 and 7 girls with guidance, empowering them with knowledge and allowing them to embrace menstruation with confidence. In addition, each girl receives a pack of Kotex pads that can be used during this transformative period.

Cycle syncing 

Dr Mhlanga highlighted that when it came to tracking one’s cycle, the majority of women were ‘winging’ it.

“While 33% of women use an app or ‘other’ means of tracking their cycle (6%), most women (37%) do not track at all, while 23% only take ‘mental notes’. Tracking your menstrual cycle has immense benefits and allows you to stay on top of your fertile and non-fertile days and expected day of menstruation,” she says, adding that many apps are available that track the menstrual cycle, as well as Kotex’s free period calculator

A woman documenting her menstrual cycle on a schedule, with sanitary pads, birth pills and tampons (Getty Images)

Encouragingly, the survey revealed that 63% of women were familiar with the four phases of their cycle – menstruation, follicular, ovulation, and luteal. However, 74% don’t know what is ‘cycle syncing’.

“Another benefit of tracking your cycle is that it fosters a more holistic relationship with your body, allowing you to note any significant changes that may be linked to your health. Your period is often referred to as the ‘fifth vital sign’ for a reason.

“Cycle syncing goes one step further, through optimising your lifestyle – including what you eat, how you exercise, the daily tasks you perform, and even your sex life – according to your hormonal changes throughout your cycle. Think of it as your superpower to slay every day!” says Dr Mhlanga.

Meredith concludes: “Although progress is being made when it comes to menstrual equity, the P-Word survey clarifies that far more needs to be done. Through our YOUnique school programme, ongoing education on our various platforms, and initiatives like the survey, Kotex is proud to play a role in starting new conversations and improving access to and education around menstrual health and hygiene.”

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