Periods are no longer “taboo”. Period. –  Peace Pirates “Menstruation Leave Project”

31 May 2022

Periods are no longer “taboo”. Period. – Peace Pirates “Menstruation Leave Project”

The Peace Pirates comprises about 20 voluntary members who are passionate about DEI related topics and has been been leading various projects to ignite DEI related conversations within TBWA\HAKUHODO. (See here for the introduction article) One of the Peace Pirates members Mizuki Oshima has been leading the “Menstrual Leave Project” to solve issues related to menstruation and menstrual leave. We talked to her about how the project has started, the activities, changes within the company through the project, and future prospects on menstruation. Eric Ellefsen, the leader of the Peace Pirates, also shared his thoughts on the proejct.

Mizuki Ooshima / Copywriter

Periods are no longer “taboo”. Period. –  Peace Pirates “Menstruation Leave Project”

Graduated from Tokyo University of Foreign Studies. Soon after joining Hakuhodo in 2019 as a copywriter, she was transferred to TBWA\HAKUHODO. Has a strong interest in gender issues and not only does she try to incorporate this diversity related perspective into her client work, but is also an active member of the Peace Pirates.

Awareness of the problem begins with “My Own Problem”
Q. Can you tell us how the “Mentrual Leave Project” has started?

Mizuki: The most fundamental reason was that I myself have been suffering from menstruation and PMS. Though my cramps and other symptoms are quite heavy, sometime I felt it difficult to take a day off for menstruation reasons because in Japan especially young people feel pressure to take a day off so as not to give other members any burden. When Peace Pirates carried out a survey within the agency regarding “problems while working,” I found that many female employees also have the similar problem that I had about the menstruation. I realized that this was an issue that we should take proactive action on.

Periods are no longer “taboo”. Period. –  Peace Pirates “Menstruation Leave Project”

Making “menstrual leave” easier to take – Revisiting the employment regulation
Q. Tell us about the changes you have led about menstruation & menstrual leave at TBWA\HAKUHODO.

Mizuki: I believe that our activities have gradually changed employees’ awareness of menstruation – and we could achieve a significant and visible change as the result of these activities, which is the revision of the definition of “menstrual leave” in the employment regulations that is active from April 2022.

The original employment regulation was applying the article related to menstrual leave as set forth in Labor Standards Law (article 68).

Original definition: “When a woman who has a difficulty to work in menstrual period can requests a menstrual leave”
New definition at TBWA\HAKUHODO (active from April 2022): “When a person who has a difficulty to work in menstrual period can requests a menstrual leave. The ‘menstrual period’ includes not only bleeding period but also PMS or PMDD that may occur before menstruation period.”

The original article on menstrual leave as stipulated in the Labor Standards Law and the discussion within Peace Pirates

The original article on menstrual leave as stipulated in the Labor Standards Law and the discussion within Peace Pirates

Since the legal definition of “menstrual leave” does not specifically define “menstrual period,” many people may regard it as “bleeding period”. In reality, however, it is not only the menstrual period (bleeding period) that is painful, but also PMS/PMDD※ before the menstrual period, so we have revised the definition to accommodate such cases as well. In addition, since there are some people who are psychologically male but physically female (FtM), we have updated the content to be more inclusive and replasce the phrase “woman” with “person”.
※PMS (premenstrual syndrome): the symptoms women can experience in the weeks before their period. Each woman’s symptoms are different and can vary from month to month.
PMDD (premenstrual dysphoric disorder): a very severe form of premenstrual syndrome (PMS). It causes a range of emotional and physical symptoms every month during the week or two before your period.

Let’s learn and talk about “Menstruation”
Q. You have been leading the “Menstrual Leave Project” within Peace Pirates. What have been your main activities?

Mizuki: We have been carrying out activities with the primary goal of “making people aware of menstruation”.
In addition to the fact that there are many aspects of menstruation that are difficult to understand without actually experiencing it, the symptoms vary from person to person. That is why we are working to provide an opportunity for people to learn about everything related to menstruation, from what kind of pain it brings to some people – through activities such as an informative newsletter or series of in-house events. From a copywriter’s point of view, I am conscious of carefully choosing words that are easy to understand and convey. There are members who learned the term “PMS” for the first time even among women. I would be happy if this project has been able to provide an opportunity for people to learn about menstruation and think about it in a different way.

Periods are no longer “taboo”. Period. –  Peace Pirates “Menstruation Leave Project”

We have held two in-house events so far; the first was a session with a male creator of menstruation-related contents to coincide with International Women’s Day, and talked about why he took up the topic of menstruation and how he perceives it from a male perspective. In the second session”Demystifying Period with CEO,” we talked with Imai CEO about his days an account person of menstruation product brands.

Periods are no longer “taboo”. Period. –  Peace Pirates “Menstruation Leave Project”

Fostering the “culture of openness”

Eric: The menstrual leave project was initially proposed by Mizuki from her passion, and now it has become a major movement, involving the entire company, including our CEO. When we try to DEI related topics, if the theme is for example “Let’s discuss about gender inequality”, than the conclusion also becomes so broad and vague such as “we need to promote gender equality” due to the broad nature of the issue. In the “Menstrual Leave Project’s case, the issue was specific to “menstrual leave,” so I think we were able to think more concretely about the measures to be taken and solutions to the issue.

Also what I am happy about is that the project has led to an impact not only on menstrual leave, but also on the company’s “culture of openness”. In Japan, there are systems such as menstrual leave and male childcare leave that have actually been protected by law for a long time, but the take-up rate has been slow to rise, and I personally thought it would be great to work to eliminate the atmosphere that makes it difficult to take time off by encouraging people to fully utilize these systems.

Q. What was the most challenging thing when you were leading the project?

Mizuki: Since this is a sensitive topic, as a copywriter, I was especially careful and conscious about choosing my words carefully so as not to hurt anyone with a single word I sent out. For example, I try to be considerate about the women who do not have menstruation, and try not to be intrusive against men, forcing them to understand women.

“Thank you for talking about period.”
Q. What was the most rewarding moment for your activities?

Mizuki: ​​I was happy when the updated employment rules were updated and activated, and also when I get direct messages of support for our efforts. What made a particularly deep impression on me was when a PMS sufferer commented that she was encouraged just to know and see someone else also suffering from PMS taking action and she is not alone. I felt as if my message had been able to lighten someone’s heart, even if only a little, and in turn I was encouraged as well.

Eric: Even the executives or many leaders, both male and female, sent us the gratitude messages, saying “I didn’t understand some members were going through these much pain during menstruation”, and this made me feel glad to be involved in this activity!

Q. Do you notice any changes within the agency as a result from this project?

Eric: Since menstruation has been regarded as a taboo for long time, I don’t think that any significant transformation will happen in a year’s worth of activities. However, I think that things that would have normally been unthinkable, such as the male CEO openly discussing his thoughts on menstruation, are being realized because of the passion that Peace Pirates has been shared with TBWA\HAKUHODO members. I feel that this enthusiasm is gradually spreading throughout the company and fostering a new atmosphere. Although Peace Pirates’ activities are at the grassroots level, it is rewarding to know that they can be conveyed to upper management and lead to changes in the company’s internal systems.

Periods are no longer “taboo”. Period. –  Peace Pirates “Menstruation Leave Project”

Mizuki: There was also a tangible change in addition to the employee regulation update. Our “Work Style Innovation Department” endorsed our activities began to set sanitary products in all of the restrooms at the office. Many members including myself find it really useful when the menstruation starts unexpectedly.

“‘That thing’ started”: so many issues around mentruation
Q. How did you apply TBWA\HAKUHODO’s Disruption®︎ concept to this activity?

Miuzki: This time, we have rephrased the idea of Disruption with the slogan for the project – “Period is no longer taboo. Perido.” We started by questioning common sense and taboos, for example, why can’t we say “can I borrow a sanitary napkin” as openly as “can I borrow a bandage” when both are used for stopping bleeding?

Eric: I believe that talking about the menstruation in public is a Disruption in itself. Even in this conversation, I didn’t even know that “unexpected menstruation” happens as Mizuki mentioned earlier, and it was a new discovery. I hope that this will not only change the internal culture of the company, but that it will eventually lead to a change in society.

Q. What kind of issues are there about menstruation?

Mizuki: “Issues about menstruation” include such a wide range of problems. It could be a simple and everyday issue which is that menstruation is often referred to in cloak-and-dagger terms such as “girl’s day” and “that thing,” or it can be a social issue such as menstrual poverty. However, I believe that all of these problems are born from the root of taboos such as regarding “menstruation is embarrassing” or “menstruation is something that should not be talked about in public”. That is why we started our activities, even though it was just a small step for one company because I thought it was so important to let people know what menstruation exactly is.

The power of Creative that breaks taboos
Q. What do you think is the significance of a creative company to focus on menstruation-related issues?

Some of the creative works that focus on Menstruation / Female health related issues and got global attention: (from left) #Bloodnormal, #wombstories, The tampon book

Some of the creative works that focus on Menstruation / Female health related issues and got global attention: (from left) #Bloodnormal, #wombstories, The tampon book

Mizuki: Because there are still many taboos around menstruation globally, I believe that creativity is important to foster an atmosphere in which menstruation is a normal part of life. Of course there is “education” as a means to change society, but I believe that “creativity” has the power to create a culture in brighter way-not only is it correct, but it can also be fun. People can be interested in things they did not care about before if they find it interesting or fun – and I believe in the power of creativity can work especially well when it comes to sensitive topics.

Eric: I believe that it gets even more signifiance when the activity is continued for a long time. As employees’ understanding of menstruation and gender health changes, it will affect their proposals to clients, which in turn will change the creative output that goes out into the world. That is what I believe it is meaningful to initiate change from within the company.

Toward a society where anyone can feel free to be weak sometimes
Q. Please tell us about the changes you would like to bring about in this society in the future.

Mizuki: Not only about “menstruation” but with a broad perspective, I want to act for a “society in which people can say when they are having a hard time without hesitation when going through difficulties.” I hope to create an atmosphere in the agency that says, “It’s okay to take a time off when you are having a hard time,” and I hope to make the world a place where people can support each other when someone is having a hard time or feel weak. As for myself, in addition to the activities of Peace Pirates, I try to work on small things such as trying to finish work on time, and trying to avoid pushing myself to go beyond the limit in terms of the amount of work I can handle on my own.

Eric: An environment where you can talk openly about things that are generally difficult to talk about; A society (including companies) where people can hear other people’s perspectives and experiences without criticism; A system that supports this – This is what we want to create as Peace Pirates. We believe that a more open corporate and social culture will make not only our agency but also Japanese society more attractive. We are still looking for the best way to do this, and we would like to get feedback from you!

Gender health right is fundamental human rights

Comment from TBWA\HAKUHODO CEO Akihiko Imai

Imai: The reality is that “menstruation,” which half of the world’s population of women must experience every month for half of their lives, is something so familiar and commonplace, and has such a large impact on women’s lives, but it has been socially taboo to talk about it until now. Recently, however, Spain became the first Western country to introduce menstrual leave and to abolish taxes on sanitary products, and many countries have begun to recognize “sexual and reproductive rights” as “human rights” and to reduce gender health disparities.
We believe that what is needed more than anything else to change perceptions is Disruption®︎ of conventions that has been taken for granted. I think this project where Peace Pirates members have interpreted the menstrual leave established in the law in a more inclusive and accessible manner and reflected it in the employee regulations was also a Disruption. As a Creativity & Disruption Company, we will continue to support these kind of activities by our members and strive to continue creating “meaningful changes in society” in the areas of diversity and sustainability. Please look forward to the changes that Peace Pirates and TBWA\HAKUHODO will bring to the world in the future.
We look forward to showcasing more Peace Pirates activities on STORIES so please stay tuned!

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