A football app start-up in Gothenburg is set to become the first business in Sweden to be certified as menstruation-friendly. But how much do employees really want to talk about their periods?
Rows of top-division European football kits hang from a giant goal net hooked to the ceiling, while two male developers kick a ball around on a green fake grass carpet.
This isn’t the most obvious place to be championing a more supportive environment for women during their periods.
Indeed, Forza Football’s chief executive Patrik Arnesson admits he “didn’t think about the menstrual cycle at all” before a female employee asked if the firm could take part in a pilot scheme designed to break down taboos around menstruation.
“No one had actually told me they had to leave work to go home because of PMS,” he says. “And then I actually realised that this is a problem and I haven’t even reflected on it.”
PMS, or premenstrual syndrome, is the name for the symptoms some women experience before their period which can include mood swings, feeling anxious or irritable and tiredness.
Headaches or cramps ahead of or during menstruation are also common. But each person’s symptoms are different and can vary from month to month.
The project in Gothenburg is being led by a non-profit called Mensen (Menses) which was given a grant of 530,000 kronor ($58,400; £44,900) from the Swedish government’s Gender Equality Agency at the end of last year.
‘SOMETHING WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT’
Since March it has started inviting all employees to attend discussions and workshops about the effects of menstruation.
These will then be used to form the basis for a certification programme that the organisation wants to see rolled out nationwide or even globally.
Klara Rydström, who is leading the project for Mensen, says that while Sweden has a global reputation for supporting women’s rights, there is still a stigma around discussing menstruation in many workplaces.
“But it’s something we have to talk about, because it’s a bodily function – a normal bodily function – just as being thirsty and you have to have water, or you’re hungry and you have to have a lunch break,” she argues.
Forza Football, which currently has around 60 workers and a 70:30 ratio of male and female employees, has already made several key changes – including providing free sanitary products and bins in company toilets
And flexible working has been introduced for all staff, so they can pick their own office hours or work from home when they want to.
Women are actively encouraged to tell other team members if they choose to be away from the office because of PMS and even to share their cycle dates and symptoms with other team members in advance if they feel comfortable with the idea.
“I get really sad and lose all my self-confidence and self-esteem. It’s kind of hard to do meetings where I need to be focused and positive,” says software developer and project manager Lisa Hammarström.
She says she’s felt more relaxed talking about her symptoms since Forza Football started taking part in the Mensen project.
Colleagues are happy for her to have a lighter workload when she’s premenstrual, she says, because she’s very productive during the rest of the month.
“I realised that it makes things easier for me if people know what is going on and how it affects your work.”
Account manager Manolo Obaya admits that for some male staff, discussing periods in the workplace has been bit “awkward”.
“When (women are) hormonal, is that a justification for not delivering on work or whatever? It’s hard to me to to say because I’ve never been in that position,” he says, adding that he hopes the project will leave him better informed.
“I think the value is just making everybody aware that some girls suffer more than others and that we should be trying to be understanding of that particular situation.”
While Forza Football is currently the only company working towards gaining a formal certification, the media buzz around the project has already spurred other businesses to take similar steps.
Several Gothenburg start-ups have recently introduced free sanitary protection and painkillers for employees.
In Stockholm, a PR agency A Perfect Day Media grabbed headlines after mulling the idea of giving female staff the chance to enter their cycle dates in a shared spreadsheet.
The project didn’t get off the ground, but the company says it is looking at other ways to spark more open discussions about menstruation.
“The most important thing is that women do not feel we must be silent or ashamed about having our period,” says the agency’s cofounder Amanda Schulman.
“We are actively working to ensure that women have the same rights as men, [but] this is not what reality looks like for many women who suffer from PMS, PMDD (a more severe form of PMS) or endometriosis. It is an important battle for us.”
But while there is clearly a strong movement championing menstrual rights in Sweden, there has also been criticism of these kind of initiatives.
Ivar Arpi, a columnist for Swedish daily Svenska Dagbladet – currently writing a book about gender ideology – argues that suggesting women might need special treatment dredges up old anti-feminist arguments that men and women aren’t equal because “female bodies can’t be trusted to work properly for the whole month”.
“Now you get a ‘carte blanche’ to act bad and you can blame your menstruation. That’s really silly,” he argues.
For other political commentators, including Linda Norlund who writes for tabloid newspaper Expressen, privacy is a key concern.
“I don’t think that my period is my boss’s business frankly, and I think that in the workplace it’s important to keep a professional atmosphere and not be too personal.”
Josefin Eklund, who works in Forza Football’s branding team, argues that even among educated women there can be a “real lack of knowledge” about PMS and PMDD.
She herself struggled with severe headaches and fatigue that she didn’t initially attribute to her menstrual cycle. “I was always taking two days off a month,” she explains.
“I started to schedule or write down how I was feeling to see if I could find a pattern and eventually I did. I could see it was related to my menstruation.”
“Menstruation will always exist, so it’s better just to know how to deal with it instead of pretending that it’s not going on.”
Mensen’s Klara Rydström says she hopes the project will also encourage men to be more open about their health and wellbeing in the workplace too.
“It opens up (discussions) for other issues as well related to men’s bodies or the work environment in general. So I think it’s very applicable to everyone.”
Public officers above 58 years and with pre-existing conditions told to work from home: The Standard
Head of Public Service Joseph Kinyua. [File, Standard]
In a document from Head of Public Service, Joseph Kinyua new measure have been outlined to curb the bulging spread of covid-19. Public officers with underlying health conditions and those who are over 58 years -a group that experts have classified as most vulnerable to the virus will be required to execute their duties from home.
However, the new rule excluded personnel in the security sector and other critical and essential services.
“All State and public officers with pre-existing medical conditions and/or aged 58 years and above serving in CSG5 (job group ‘S’) and below or their equivalents should forthwith work from home,” read the document,” read the document.
To ensure that those working from home deliver, the Public Service directs that there be clear assignments and targets tasked for the period designated and a clear reporting line to monitor and review work done.
SEE ALSO: Thinking inside the cardboard box for post-lockdown work stations
Others measures outlined in the document include the provision of personal protective equipment to staff, provision of sanitizers and access to washing facilities fitted with soap and water, temperature checks for all staff and clients entering public offices regular fumigation of office premises and vehicles and minimizing of visitors except by prior appointments.
Officers who contract the virus and come back to work after quarantine or isolation period will be required to follow specific directives such as obtaining clearance from the isolation facility certified by the designated persons indicating that the public officer is free and safe from Covid-19. The officer will also be required to stay away from duty station for a period of seven days after the date of medical certification.
“The period a public officer spends in quarantine or isolation due to Covid-19, shall be treated as sick leave and shall be subject to the Provisions of the Human Resource Policy and procedures Manual for the Public Service(May,2016),” read the document.
The service has also made discrimination and stigmatization an offence and has guaranteed those affected with the virus to receive adequate access to mental health and psychosocial supported offered by the government.
The new directives targeting the Public Services come at a time when Kenyans have increasingly shown lack of strict observance of the issued guidelines even as the number of positive Covid-19 cases skyrocket to 13,771 and leaving 238 dead as of today.
SEE ALSO: Working from home could be blessing in disguise for persons with disabilities
Principal Secretaries/ Accounting Officers will be personally responsible for effective enforcement and compliance of the current guidelines and any future directives issued to mitigate the spread of Covid-19.
Uhuru convenes summit to review rising Covid-19 cases: The Standard
President Uhuru Kenyatta (pictured) will on Friday, July 24, meet governors following the ballooning Covid-19 infections in recent days.
The session will among other things review the efficacy of the containment measures in place and review the impact of the phased easing of the restrictions, State House said in a statement.
This story is being updated.
SEE ALSO: Sakaja resigns from Covid-19 Senate committee, in court tomorrow
Drastic life changes affecting mental health
Kenya has been ranked 6th among African countries with the highest cases of depression, this has triggered anxiety by the World Health Organization (WHO), with 1.9 million people suffering from a form of mental conditions such as depression, substance abuse.
Globally, one in four people is affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, this is according to the WHO.
Currently, around 450 million people suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide.
The pandemic has also been known to cause significant distress, mostly affecting the state of one’s mental well-being.
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With the spread of the COVID-19 pandemic attributed to the novel Coronavirus disease, millions have been affected globally with over 14 million infections and half a million deaths as to date. This has brought about uncertainty coupled with difficult situations, including job loss and the risk of contracting the deadly virus.
In Kenya the first Coronavirus case was reported in Nairobi by the Ministry of Health on the 12th March 2020. It was not until the government put in place precautionary measures including a curfew and lockdown (the latter having being lifted) due to an increase in the number of infections that people began feeling its effect both economically and socially.
A study by Dr. Habil Otanga, a Lecturer at the University of Nairobi, Department of Psychology says that such measures can in turn lead to surge in mental related illnesses including depression, feelings of confusion, anger and fear, and even substance abuse. It also brings with it a sense of boredom, loneliness, anger, isolation and frustration. In the post-quarantine/isolation period, loss of employment due to the depressed economy and the stigma around the disease are also likely to lead to mental health problems.
The Kenya National Bureau of Statistics (KNBS) states that at least 300,000 Kenyans have lost their jobs due to the Coronavirus pandemic between the period of January and March this year.
KNBC noted that the number of employed Kenyans plunged to 17.8 million as of March from 18.1 million people as compared to last year in December. The Report states that the unemployment rate in Kenya stands at 13.7 per cent as of March this year while it stood 12.4 per cent in December 2019.
Mama T (not her real name) is among millions of Kenyans who have been affected by containment measures put in place to curb the spread of the virus, either by losing their source of income or having to work under tough guidelines put in place by the MOH.
As young mother and an event organizer, she has found it hard to explain to her children why they cannot go to school or socialize freely with their peers as before.
“Sometimes it gets difficult as they do not understand what is happening due to their age, this at times becomes hard on me as they often think I am punishing them,”
Her contract was put on hold as no event or public gatherings can take place due to the pandemic. This has brought other challenges along with it, as she has to find means of fending for her family expenditures that including rent and food.
“I often wake up in the middle of the night with worries about my next move as the pandemic does not exhibit any signs of easing up,” she says. She adds that she has been forced to sort for manual jobs to keep her family afloat.
Ms. Mary Wahome, a Counseling Psychologist and Programs Director at ‘The Reason to Hope,’ in Karen, Nairobi says that such kind of drastic life changes have an adverse effect on one’s mental status including their family members and if not addressed early can lead to depression among other issues.
“We have had cases of people indulging in substance abuse to deal with the uncertainty and stress brought about by the pandemic, this in turn leads to dependence and also domestic abuse,”
Sam Njoroge , a waiter at a local hotel in Kiambu, has found himself indulging in substance abuse due to challenges he is facing after the hotel he was working in was closed down as it has not yet met the standards required by the MOH to open.
“My day starts at 6am where I go to a local pub, here I can get a drink for as little as Sh30, It makes me suppress the frustration I feel.” he says.
Sam is among the many who have found themselves in the same predicament and resulted to substance abuse finding ways to beat strict measures put in place by the government on the sale of alcohol so as to cope.
Mary says, situations like Sam’s are dangerous and if not addressed early can lead to serious complications, including addiction and dependency, violent behavior and also early death due to health complications.
She has, however, lauded the government for encouraging mental wellness and also launching the Psychological First Aid (PFA) guide in the wake of the virus putting emphasis on the three action principal of look, listen and link. “When we follow this it will be easy to identify an individual in distress and also offer assistance”.
Mary has urged anyone feeling the weight of the virus taking a toll on them not to hesitate but look for someone to talk to.
“You should not only seek help from a specialist but also talk to a friend, let them know what you are undergoing and how you feel, this will help ease their emotional stress and also find ways of dealing with the situation they are facing,” She added
Mary continued to stress on the need to perform frequent body exercises as a form of stress relief, reading and also taking advantage of this unfortunate COVID-19 period to engage in hobbies and talent development.
“Let people take this as an opportunity to kip fit, get in touch with one’s inner self and also engage in reading that would help expand their knowledge.