Swedes debate period-proofed workplaces

Elin Danielsson and Rebecka Hallencreutz of the Swedish menstruation rights group MENSEN, 2018 Image copyright Petter Hägg/mensen.se
Image caption MENSEN says menstrual issues are a matter of being considerate of people's different needs

People in Sweden are debating a new government-funded initiative to provide a supportive environment for women during their periods. 

The new Gender Equality Agency has given a grant of 530,000 kronor ($58,400; £44,900) to an organisation called MENSEN (Menses) to "break the taboo around menstruation", with period-friendly workplaces receiving a certificate.

MENSEN calls for toilets, sanitary bins and hand-washing facilities to be available in all working environments, including for professionals outside the office space, like construction workers, plumbers and bus drivers. 

'Not a matter of shame'

"We risk treating menstruation as an illness rather than a normal bodily function," Josefin Persdotter, a sociology researcher at Gothenburg University told the Arbetet labour movement weekly.

"Sometimes you are hungry, sometimes thirsty, and sometimes you have hormone fluctuations affecting your work," she said.

Other advocates want employers to supply sanitary products at work just as they provide toilet roll.

Image copyright Mensen.se
Image caption "Menstrual knowledge is power"

Around the world, women struggle to have a dignified menstrual experience. Some women are excluded from social life during that time of the month. Others lack adequate hygiene products due to poverty.

The issues are all part of the same core problem, Swedish period advocates believe.

Sweden is known for its gender equality programmes - the government has even launched an instruction manual for feminist foreign policies. Menstrual rights feature not only in the media, but also on stage and in public spaces.

There has been "Period - The Musical" for schools, a stage play, comic books, exhibitions and a podcast, not to mention artwork on the Stockholm metro by prominent graphic novelist Liv Strömquist.

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The latest campaign has divided public commentators.

"Why should my boss know when I'm having my period?" asks a columnist in the leading daily Svenska Dagbladet, in response to a suggestion that staff should log their periods in Excel sheets.

Another writer in the tabloid Expressen asks the campaigners who "want to highlight our hormones and mood swings whether they are aware that these have been used throughout history as an argument to deny women voting rights, power and important jobs?"

But supporters of the MENSEN campaign say it's important that periods should no longer be a matter of shame.

"I remember how embarrassing it was in school," said a presenter when the issue was debated on Swedish Public TV.

"More information is needed in schools, as research shows it is not enough for parents to teach their children", Klara Rydström, the vice-chairwoman of MENSEN, told Swedish TV.

'General working environment issue'

The workplace certification idea also has its supporters.

Josefin Eklund of Forza Football App, a company working on a pilot project with MENSEN, told the Aftonbladet tabloid that a certificate would be proof that her company cares about the working environment for women.

Three female bus drivers agree, telling Arbetet "many think it's silly and stupid, but we don't - we have no toilet on the buses".

They recounted embarrassing situations, like having to change pads behind a bush while passengers waited on the bus, or leaving the driver's seat stained in blood. "This is general working environment issue," they concluded.

Image copyright mensen.se
Image caption The campaign seeks to engage the whole of Swedish society

Reporting by Matilda Welin

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