Mariah’s monthly: What changed in fem care in 2019?

By Mariah Mansvelt Beck, co-founder of Yoni

With the end of the year approaching I find myself in reflection mode. What has this year brought Yoni and our mission to bring people in the know about  all things vulva? My top 5:

1. VIVA LA VULVA

I started the year with the desire to to deepen the information Yoni was sharing. So not only great instragram-able visuals but these visuals linked with inspirational, educational and factual copy. This year was the year that that desire really came together and we were able to share valuable content on social media, but also go beyond that. Not only did I co-author “V – From Vulva to Vagina” (sorry, still only in Dutch!) and present it on national TV (shocking some viewers with pictures of real vulvas), we also just launched our podcast: The Pussycast. In this podcast we’re interviewing experts about all things vulva, asking all those questions you may have never had the opportunity to ask.

And not only did we launch our own podcast, this is the first year that I’ve been on SO MANY podcasts as a guest… 2019 was definitely the year of the podcast (although personally I’ve been a podcast listener for years now – with Esther Perel, Tim Ferris, Dear Sugar and Oprah on my list of favourites). Here are a few of my fav podcast interviews to date: DAMN, HONEYTittymag, New Female Leaders.

I also love how it’s not only Yoni but, really a whole movement of people, organizations and companies who are creatively and inspirationally sharing knowledge with the aim to get a healthy conversation going about all things vulva. A few highlights for me were: The period emoji is finally here, Sexyland became Vulvaland for the day, in London the first Vagina Museum was opened and Cathelijne Blok built an enormous vulva and uterus at Youseum, a new museum in Amsterdam.

2. INDUSTRY INSPIRATION

This was pretty much the first year I’ve truly been inspired by moves other were making within the fem care industry. In the US seven female-founded brands including a couple of transparent and conscious period brands, came together to take a stand against the abortion ban and ran a full page ad in the New York Times. In Germany I loved how the German brand, The Female Company circumvented tax by hiding tampons in a book. You see, in Germany books are taxed 7% instead of the 19% that fem care products are taxed in Germany (as luxury items). Luckily this is changing and we should see the German fem care tax being lowered start of 2020. Also, Einhorn launched their organic cotton period products in a way that even made do it a double take.

3. PLASTIC FREE PERIODS & CHANGE FROM THE BIG 4!

This was the year I really saw organic cotton making an entrance into mainstream retailers and plastic being asked to leave the room. More and more retailers are taking a stand against plastic – Sainsbury’s has even announced to aim for “plastic free periods” by 2020 thanks to Ella Daish’s petition to #EndPeriodPlastic. I can’t wait to see who will follow…

It was also the year that the four fem care industry giants took steps towards more sustainable and/or healthier products. This fall Always launched their “Sensitive” or “Pure” range of pads with an organic cotton top sheet. OB has been more transparent about the ingredients in their tampons for the past year and in a few markets I see they are testing organic options.

Yay! Finally, some movement. However, I still see plenty of room for improvement. We’d love to see these market giants not only add more natural options to their range, but to really switch all of their plastic/synthetic products to biodegradable options like we’ve had from the start. Biodegradable fem care products are just as “leak free” and more sustainable, after all. I also see some brands over promoting plant-based tampon applicators as if they are soooo much better than regular plastic applicators. But guess what? It turns out these applicators have the same end of life properties as normal plastic. Not biodegradable in any way… Just more plastic. That’s why we at Yoni made the conscious decision to take on cardboard applicators last year when we entered the UK (where applicators are more the norm than in our home base in The Netherlands). I also am following DAME with a lot of interest, who came up with a re-usable applicator, which really took off this year.

One change I’d really like to applaud, but am waiting for in vain, would be for everyone to add a list of ingredients to every tampons, pad or liner product packaging. I want to see more than talk about organic cotton top sheets. We need full disclosure. Also brands need to stop using misleading slogans like “cotton-like feel” or “silk touch” when there’s really no cotton or silk involved. For this, I know a few fast and professional graphic designers that would be happy to make this simple change on pack – so Always, Libresse, OB and Kotex feel free to call me if you need a hook up ;-).

Luckily, there’s hope because in New York a law was passed that requires fem care brands to list the ingredients on pack (come on Europe!). Here in Europe there are a number of advocates, petitions and obviously companies like Yoni who are all pushing this issue forwards… will 2020 be the year?

4. FEMVERTIZING

From the start of Yoni I felt the need to break away from the “white legging, blue fluid” fem care ads that perpetuate the belief that menstruation should be kept a secret and shouldn’t be talked about in real human terms. In the past year or so, Libresse has made an effort with some of their campaigns and in first instance we applauded their taboo-breaking “viva la vulva” ad but then we realized – all the way at the end – they were promoting vaginal wipes and soap. Say what!?? Soaps and vaginal soap are actually not very good for your vagina…. we’d love to see all communication as well as, perfumed products geared towards leading us to believe “my vulva smells” leave the shelves and advertisement space once and for all.

5. PERIOD POVERTY

In the UK we’ve seen quite a lot of movement over the past years on the topic of period poverty (when people can’t afford to buy the menstrual products they need). In the UK, activism around period poverty is being led by the inspirational Gabby Edlin and her Bloody Good Period movement as well as Amika George of #FreePeriods campaign amongst others. Past spring successes were made when the UK government announcing that secondary schools in England would receive funding to provide sanitary products free-of-charge to students. Here in The Netherlands we were lagging behind when it came to the topic of period poverty. Not because it doesn’t exist in The Netherlands, but because no one had done the research. That changed when the feminist organization, De Bovengrondse released their research focusing on period poverty here in Amsterdam and combined with Plan International’s research. It turns out period poverty is a problem here in The Netherlands as well. They presented their report to the Dutch government and started collecting money, aiming to actually solve the problem and inspiring others to take up this issue and collect products and/or donations to help those who are suffering from period poverty in The Netherlands. Read more about their initiative and how we are collaborating in this blog post.

All in all I am looking forward to more transparent and sustainable fem care options in 2020 including a lot more taboo breaking action and conversation around the topic menstruation and all things vulva. Feel free to contact me if you would like to share or discuss any steps, events or possible collaborations now or in the future. And to keep in touch with what Yoni is doing don’t forget to sign up for our newsletter or follow us on social media.