After reading about MENSEN‘S advocacy in this news article, Casimira Melican contacted MENSEN to find out more about how the organisation is working to dispel the menstrual taboo in schools and wider society in Sweden.
Casimira: Thank you so much for agreeing to be interviewed. First off, can you please tell us about what inspired MENSEN’s foundation? Why did you start MENSEN?
Becka: Just after I finished my bachelor in global studies I listened to a podcast about menstrual taboos and found it really intriguing, so I started to research it on my own, specifically the global situation due to my education. I actually hadn’t thought about what a huge obstacle for development this is, and how crucial it is to include menstruators’ needs when combating poverty. It kind of pissed me off that it wasn’t mentioned once during my studies considering we had covered everything else when learning about challenges in developing countries. I mean, if we talk about sanitation, diseases, SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights), toilets, excrement disposal, gender equality, patriarchal structures and so on – how is it that menstruation was left out? It was a personal eye-opener as well, why didn’t I think of this considering I am a menstruating person myself and know how important period products and sufficient bathrooms are to handle it?! It made me realize how invisible the topic of menstruation is in societal discourse, at a global level as well as here in Sweden. By coincidence I got in touch with Josefin Persdotter, and we shared the same interest in menstrual issues so we decided to just go for it and start an organization!
Casimira: I am particularly interested in the work MENSEN is doing around menstrual education in primary schools, how did that start and what are some of the things you have learnt from that program?
Becka: One of our core values is to break taboos, but also to spread knowledge about menstrual issues and we think it’s important to start early. If kids learn about the menstrual cycle in a relaxed and positive way early in life, they feel more secure in their bodies and have knowledge to bust common myths about menstruation, they know how period products work and where to look for help if they experience problems with their periods and so on. We also think that everyone should have this knowledge, not just the girls. We want to move away from the notion that periods are a ‘private matter’ for women that men don’t need to know about – that only enforces period shame, myths and the general taboo. It’s so amazing to visit schools and see how curious the kids are and answer all the questions they have. If we wait too long to have these kinds of talks with kids – the taboo has time to kick in, so to say, the adult world sends an unintended signal that this is a topic you don’t really talk about.
Casimira: What is MENSEN working on now and what are your goals for the future?
Becka: Currently we are working a lot with mapping and surveying period poverty in Sweden. We also have a big project going on called Universal Period Competence. The aim is that children and young people, regardless of physical and mental ability, should know what menstruation is, what it can mean for different people and feel empowered by the knowledge. We’re developing material using universal design which means it will be accessible regardless of whether or not an individual has a visual or hearing impairment, reading and writing difficulties, an NPF diagnosis or a mobility impairment. Our main goal is an equal society where the views on menstruation and the menstrual cycle is open-minded, where menstrual rights are met: everyone who has menstruation has access to and can afford period protection, as well as knowledge of the body, there is an infrastructure in place that meets sanitary needs and supportive norms around menstruation. Not an easy task, but we take one step at a time!
Rebecka Hallencreutz is co-founder of the Swedish non-profit organization MENSEN. She has a bachelor in global studies and a masters degree in communication from Gothenburg University. Rebecka is passionate about sexual and reproductive rights and creating a positive, trans-including discourse around menstruation and menstrual health.
Image: Ellika Henriksson