Adoption of sanitary napkins is less than 20% in India, whereas adoption of cosmetics like lipstick is significantly higher at 65%: Chetna Soni, P&G
We look at Whisper’s marketing campaigns over the yearsWhisper
Menstrual hygiene is still not considered a priority in India

Adoption of sanitary napkins is less than 20% in India, whereas adoption of cosmetics like lipstick is significantly higher at 65%: Chetna Soni, P&G

Menstrual hygiene is still not considered a priority in India
  • The lack of menstrual hygiene has always been a challenge in India.
  • According to UNESCO and Whisper, 23 Million girls drop out of school due to lack of menstrual hygiene and awareness.
  • Ergo, P&G’s Whisper is on a mission to raise awareness and educate girls on Menstrual Hygiene Management.
  • We catch up with Chetna Soni, Category Leader - Feminine Care, P&G Indian sub-continent to understand the state of menstrual hygiene in India and how Whisper is working towards improving awareness among young girls in the country.
  • We also look at Whisper’s marketing campaigns over the years.
For the longest time, the Indian society has treated menstruation as a taboo. The word ‘Period’ is usually uttered in hushed voices and years of social conditioning have built a culture of silence around what is a normal biological phenomenon.

With young girls and women having limited access to menstrual education and basic sanitary care products, the concept of menstrual hygiene has also remained a challenge in India. And periods don’t stop for pandemics. In fact, lockdowns intensify the impact of household level taboos and stigmas on women -- making it more difficult to manage menstruation without shame and discomfort in confined spaces. In rural India, the unavailability of sanitary napkins coupled with unhygienic and crowded washrooms and toilets in their localities have worsened the situation for women.

According to Menstrual Hygiene brand Whisper and UNESCO, the global pandemic has forced girls to abandon sanitary napkins for menstrual pads made of cloth, which has raised the spectre of a looming health hazard. Adding to the misery, the lack of menstrual hygiene education in India is also impacting 23 million girls dropping out of school.

Throwing light on how the global pandemic has impacted menstruating people in rural India, Chetna Soni, Category Leader - Feminine Care, P&G Indian sub-continent, said, “These unprecedented times have made it even more difficult to keep girls in school. The premature closure of schools due to the pandemic affected access to education, especially for girls from marginalized communities. This has made them even more vulnerable to dropping out of school completely. Many of these girls would receive pads for period management from school which stopped, leading to them using unhygienic period protection. According to UNESCO, 74 crore girls were disproportionately impacted during the COVID-19 pandemic and it may further affect their return to school. Now more than ever, it is important we ensure girls have access to period protection and education. And support them in every way we can to protect their future.”

So, to help these young girls in rural India stay in school during the pandemic, Whisper launched ‘Mobileshaala,’ a free phone-based learning platform. It worked with supporters like Soha Ali Khan, Dutee Chand and Bhumi Pednekar to spread awareness. The brand also donated more than 32 lakh pads to essential workers, women in shelter homes, women from migrant families and communities in need across India, in partnership with various State Government bodies and relief organisations.

State of menstrual hygiene in India during a global pandemic

The global pandemic has taken up all our medical attention and resources. On the other hand, period poverty is a decades-old, silent pandemic that is getting worse for menstruating people in our country. This is a direct consequence of social stigma, lack of awareness and poor access to menstrual products.

Shedding more light on the current state of menstrual hygiene in India, Soni shared, “Even today, menstrual hygiene is not considered a priority in India. Out of a total of ~40 crore menstruating women in India, less than 20% use sanitary pads. In urban areas, this number only goes up to 52%. This indicates that nearly half of even urban-based women use unhygienic methods for period protection, making them vulnerable to health issues. In our conversations with various young girls, we discovered that many of them prioritize beauty products but are not ready to spend a fraction of the amount on an essential like sanitary pads. Adoption of sanitary napkins is less than 20% in the country whereas adoption of cosmetics like lipstick is significantly higher at 65%. In addition, there is still a social stigma associated with periods.”

Whisper is on a mission to help India achieve 100% menstrual hygiene adoption. It is focusing on 3 A’s to build a better world for menstruating women, which are awareness, acceptance and access.

As per Whisper and UNESCO’s studies, about 71% of adolescent girls in India remain unaware of menstruation until they get their first period, adversely affecting their confidence and self-esteem. Whisper aims to help all young girls arm themselves with enough information about menstruation. It launched #KeepGirlsInSchool movement with UNESCO. The partnership is aimed at developing an integrated puberty education module in school curricula and helping young girls in achieving their full potential. In addition to this, the brand Whisper has also taken a pledge to educate 3 crore girls in the next three years.

Telling us more about the campaign's performance so far, Soni said, “The campaign truly sparked a national movement which was very encouraging. We will be impacting more than 90 Lakh girls and help keep them in school. Supported by UNESCO this year, we aim to integrate a period education module in the school curriculum in India - to ensure systematic changes ensuring girls are equipped to manage periods and don't miss out on school or their dreams. The movement has been able to drive awareness amongst 5.5 crore people in just one year. The support from key opinion leaders like Mr. Eric Fahlt and Dr. Huma Masood from UNESCO, Bhumi Pednekar, Soha Ali Khan, Dutee Chand amongst others has been testament to a movement we can collectively drive. We see this as a pivotal movement to attain 100% menstrual hygiene In India.”

But there’s hope after all.

30 years ago, less than 1 crore women used hygienic sanitary protection during their period. Whisper has helped accelerate this number by 10X and it continues to grow.

Using the right marketing tools to empower women and girls

Soni told us that the brand follows a simple principle for marketing. In every communication, it strives to be a force for female good. She shared with us a few key milestones that Whisper has crossed in its marketing journey so far.

Recalling the first change-making campaign that Whisper worked on, Soni said, “Whisper was the first brand to show a sanitary napkin on television and mention the word ‘periods’ in advertising as well as demonstrate how the product works on National TV back in 1993. Pushing communication boundaries for societal good is at our core.”

In 2014, Whisper bust the taboo around ‘touching the pickle’ during menstruation.

“Whisper became the first brand in India in 2014 to take the topic of period taboos head-on in the globally renowned Whisper ‘Touch the Pickle’ campaign. The campaign went on to win several global awards including Grand Prix at the Cannes Lions and sparked a conversation in India that led to periods being front and center in the society. The campaign is also known as the trailblazer for bringing periods out of the closet in popular culture as the government, entertainment industry and social sector became part of the movement. We followed this up with award-winning revolutionary campaigns such as ‘Whispers Break Silence’ and ‘Meri Life Mere Rules’, characterized by local cultural insights and have led to organic consumer movements,” shared Soni.

Under the same campaign, Whisper launched an advertisement urging chemists to not wrap sanitary napkins in a black plastic bag or newspaper.

Its current campaign is the #KeepGirlsInSchool movement.

While there has been a sea of change in normalising the conversation around periods, there is still so much more road to cover. Here’s hoping that more menstrual hygiene brands stop using blue liquid in their ads to represent period blood and help normalise it.