There’s still enormous stigma around menstruation in Australia, and the unavoidable reality is that most women, or anyone with a uterus, has felt the harsh impacts of it at some point.
For Nina Tavener, the extent of period stigma really hit home in 2019, when she attended a business conference for women. One of the speakers asked the room how many of them had been unexpectedly caught out by their period while at work, and felt embarrassment because of it.
To Nina’s surprise, nearly every woman at the conference, and there were thousands in attendance, raised her hand.
This gave Nina the impetus to launch Pixii, a business she co-founded with her partner Dean, with a goal to change how workplaces approach periods and support their female staff. Pixii is a service that provides eco-friendly, plastic-free tampons and pads to workplaces, schools, offices, shopping centres and warehouses.
“We think it’s time that we, as a society, stopped treating menstruation as something secret or something to be ashamed of,” Nina tells Women’s Agenda in the below Q&A.
“It’s a natural need. Needing period products is no different to needing toilet paper, or water.”
Pixii is now campaigning to schools around Sydney, to get free period products into every school bathroom.
Here, Nina tells Women’s Agenda about the urgent need for period products to be free and accessible for every Australian girl, and how this would help address the period stigma that continues to permeate society at every level.
Where did the idea for Pixii come from? And can you tell us about the business’ vision for girls and women in Australia?
The reason to start Pixii has been with me for years, actually. I was working in a corporate environment and occasionally getting caught out at work without a tampon or pad when I really needed one. Like many of us, I just never thought much more about it – that’s just the way things were. Then in 2019 I went to a women’s business conference and one of the speakers addressed this very issue. She described situations I thought only I had been in:
- Having to tie a sweater around your waist and slide, back against the wall out of the room
- Hiding a tampon up your sleeve to sneak it from your desk to the bathroom
- Sitting through a meeting distracted by the fear that you’ve bled through
But it turns out it was not just me. Nearly every woman in the audience – thousands of them – raised their hand to having been in at least one of these situations. This made me think about how absurd it is that 51% of the population go through this, and it could be helped by something as simple as having pads and tampons in every bathroom where they are needed.
I thought about this all afternoon and all the way home from the conference, and had decided before my head hit the pillow that night that I would do something about it, and Pixii was born. Pixii’s vision is of a world with complete equality. Our mission is to do our small part in that, by making sure everyone’s natural hygiene needs are met at work and at school, regardless of their gender.
Since you’ve started your campaign to get free products in schools across Sydney, what has the response been like from students?
We’re really impressed by the response we’ve had from students. Girls all around Sydney have been engaging and getting really involved in helping convince their schools that girls should have access to these basic hygiene supplies.
We’ve surveyed Sydney school girls this month. Of the 871 girls who participated in our survey, more than 83% say their school does not offer free period products.
Some girls have shared stories about having to ask a teacher or school nurse to get a pad, which can be embarrassing or stressful. Others have volunteered to start petitions and all sorts of things to help bring this gap in student support to attention. It’s great to see so much initiative, engagement and leadership from young girls bringing this up with their schools.
Do you have an idea of how prevalent period poverty is in Australia currently? And what are some of the negative impacts that a lack of access to period products can create for girls in day-to-day life?
It varies a lot by region, but period poverty in Australia is not as small an issue as you might think.
As of the 2016 Census there were more than 115,000 homeless Australians, 42% of them female. As many as 1.5 million Australians are estimated to be struggling with period poverty, but the true extent is really unknown, in part because there’s so much taboo around even talking about the problem in the first place.
Clearly if a girl cannot get the period products she needs, it impacts her attention and ability to focus on school. Other places around the world have shown clear links between freely available period products and school attendance rates. In New Zealand as many as 8% of girls have skipped school due to period poverty. The UK has seen up to 42% of girls have to make do with the “bricolage” approach – finding whatever substitute they can, like tissue paper or a sock. More than 137,000 students missed schools in 2018 due to period poverty there (the UK). And as many as 20% of students in the U.S. have missed school due to lack of access to period products.
Some of these countries have started to address the issue already – period products are free in schools in England, Wales, and Scotland, New Zealand, Victoria and in fifteen states across the U.S. We think it won’t be long until NSW and the rest of Australia get on board with this basic social change as well.
Girls missing school due to lack of access to such a basic supply, for a natural need that impacts half the population, every month for decades, is just unacceptable. It’s an issue that has been glossed over, or ignored, or deemed ‘taboo’ for too long. Every day a girl misses school because of her period is a day’s education she loses in comparison with her male counterparts, because of an entirely natural hygiene need.
The current pandemic has not helped – when panic buying set in, access to affordable period products became even harder. Plan Australia found that 68% of girls agreed it was more “difficult to have dignified access to sanitary health care”.
Do you think having widespread and free access to period products in schools in Australia would help to address the stigma that exists around menstruation?
Absolutely! We think it’s time that we, as a society, stopped treating menstruation as something secret or something to be ashamed of. It’s a natural need. Needing period products is no different to needing toilet paper, or water. And it should be no more embarrassing, either.
If you were a student at a school that had no toilet paper, and you had to buy and bring your own from home each day, or if your kids had to do that… think of what you’d be telling the school. This is the same, and we think it should be talked about until the provision of supplies is the same too – until free pads and tampons are everywhere where there’s free toilet paper.
Can you tell us about the choice Pixii has made to donate 50 per cent of its profits to charity for girls’ education?
When we founded Pixii, it was with a bigger purpose in mind. We want to make the world a better place, with more equality. We felt that we couldn’t do this whilst sustaining any ongoing and avoidable environmental damage, which is why we’ve sourced Australia’s most eco friendly period products.
Also, by giving back to girls’ education in areas where it’s really needed, with every tampon and pad sold, we can be sure that we’re doing good here in Australia, doing good for the planet, and doing good for girls’ futures around the world too.