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On #IWD2024, UNI Equal Opportunities launches campaign on the ‘three ‘M’s: menstruation, maternity and menopause 


On #IWD2024, UNI Equal Opportunities launches campaign on the ‘three ‘M’s: menstruation, maternity and menopause 

This International Women’s Day, UNI Global Union Equal Opportunities published the first guide in a series aimed at elevating menstruation, maternity and menopause as occupational health and safety issues. 

The effort seeks to break down the stigmas surrounding “the three ‘M’s.” It also encourages unions to consider these three natural processes in developing workplace standards and in collective bargaining. The initiative kicks off with a focus on menstruation health at work.  

“The three ‘M’s have a significant impact on the professional development of women. By centring on them, this campaign will further strengthen gender equality within trade unions and throughout the world of work,” said Veronica Fernandez Mendez, Head of Equal Opportunities. “We know how important it is to provide knowledge and tools for women workers to defend their rights and build better, stronger, diverse and more equal workplaces around the world.” 

The guide, published on 8 March, breaks the silence that often shrouds menstrual health at work and underscores the urgency for policies that meet the needs of menstruating workers.  

For many, the lack of access to appropriate menstrual health is not just a discomfort but a barrier to their participation in the workplace. The absence of private and clean bathroom facilities – and the lack of adequate break time to use them – pose significant health challenges, such as infection and kidney problems. Menstruating individuals require spaces where they can manage their hygiene needs discreetly and comfortably, without fear of embarrassment or exposure. This necessity extends to having facilities for the disposal of sanitary products and access to clean water for washing, which are basic but vital needs that are often overlooked in workplace settings.  

Inflexible work time can exacerbate these challenges, particularly for those experiencing painful or debilitating menstrual symptoms or conditions such as menorrhagia or endometriosis. The traditional 9-to-5 work model does not always accommodate the need for rest or the sudden onset of menstrual pain, leading to increased absenteeism and reduced productivity. Implementing menstrual leave policies, providing options for remote working when possible, and allowing adjusted hours are key steps towards creating a more inclusive and supportive workplace environment.  

The guide highlights how trade unions can spearhead measures to support menstruating workers, including negotiating policies for menstrual leave, ensuring access to sanitary products, enhancing workplace facilities for privacy and fighting the stigma associated with menstruation. Education and training programmes can foster a supportive workplace culture, accommodating the needs of menstruating workers and ensuring their rights are upheld. 

Highlighting best practices, the guide describes victories like activists from Bangladeshi union the National Shop Employees Federation, who advocated and won private bathroom facilities at a large supermarket. It also discusses the “Stop the Stigma” campaign in Ireland, which provided evidence-backed solutions for a proper menstrual and menopause workplace policies. These examples illustrate positive change when trade unions, employers and workers collaborate to address the challenges faced by menstruating workers.

“On International Women’s Day, we raise our voices to say: gender equality is central to all we do as a trade union movement,” said UNI General Secretary Christy Hoffman. “The issues affecting women workers do not belong in the shadows but at the heart of collective bargaining, and our three ‘M’s campaign is crucial for unions fighting to make work safe and to make gender equality a reality.”

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