Each day, over 300 million women and girls worldwide experience a natural physiological process: menstruation. Yet this process is often shrouded in stigma, resulting in substantial negative impacts for women globally. Now, new research offers a novel perspective on how social enterprises in the menstrual products industry are working to disrupt and transform these stigmatizing narratives.
A study recently published in the Journal of Management Studies by Mirjam D. Werner, Maria Carmen Punzi, and A.J.K. Turkenburg from Erasmus University Rotterdam and Vrije Universiteit Amsterdam takes a deep dive into the strategies employed by 90 such social enterprises. The researchers found these organizations not only acknowledge the societal issue of menstrual stigma but place it at the heart of their missions.
A Strategy of Disruption
These social enterprises, according to the study, employ a disruptive strategy. They’re not just selling products; they’re actively working to reshape societal attitudes and beliefs around menstruation. They do this through tactics of normalization and moralization—normalizing menstruation as a natural process and asserting the moral imperative to challenge stigmatizing attitudes and practices.
The Power of Multimodality
An important insight from the study is the role of multimodality in destigmatizing menstruation. Social enterprises use multiple channels and modes of communication—such as visual, auditory, and textual messages—to challenge deeply ingrained, often hidden norms about menstruation. This multimodal approach is key to their mission, especially given the sometimes still taboo nature of menstruation and allows them to broaden their reach through advocacy.
Implications and Conclusions
The implications of this study extend beyond the menstrual products industry. It offers important lessons for other social enterprises and organizations that aim to challenge stigmatized narratives and drive societal change. Moreover, it contributes to the literature on organizational stigma, social enterprises, and multimodality, revealing how these concepts are interrelated in the process of societal transformation.
Study co-author Maria Carmen Punzi comments: “We live in a world where the experience of menstruation and the body is mediated by the products we use and the brands we choose. As the first systematic study on social enterprises in this industry, our paper recognizes that and analyzes in depth how social entrepreneurs can change meanings around menstruation. One of the key learnings is that addressing stigmatized topics through business comes with unique challenges and opportunities that need to be addressed creatively. I hope that this study will inspire scholars and practitioners that work on other tabooed topics – think sex, abortion, menopause – and will show them how combining normalization with new moral norms through a multimodal approach can disrupt their industry.”
Hopefully the disruptive and multimodal strategies of social enterprises in the menstrual health space can serve as a model for many other organizations seeking to challenge stigma and effect positive societal change. The fight against the stigma surrounding menstruation is of course far from over, but this research offers an empowering perspective on the power of social entrepreneurship to drive this much-needed change.