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Stayfree's Free Period Campaign: Challenging Taboos Surrounding Menstruation

In a world where one person's discomfort can be another's joy, Stayfree's "Free Period" campaign defies stereotypes about menstruation, working to transform the lives of women involved in the sex trade. Collaborating with the DDB Mudra Group and the non-profit organization Prerana, this campaign aimed to liberate sex workers from the dark and stagnant aspects of their lives. Not only did it earn a Silver award in the Health & Wellness category at the 2018 Cannes Lions, but it also brought a fresh and intriguing perspective to the forefront.


Background

For women, discussing menstruation is often an unpleasant topic. In India, where the burden of gender bias still lingers, it gets even more complicated. During their menstrual cycles, girls are prohibited from attending school, women are considered impure, and they are not allowed to enter temples or even their own kitchens. Hence, menstruation is a sensitive subject that many try to avoid discussing.


On a different note, many believe that rescuing sex workers from the red-light district is the solution. However, the reality is much more complex. These women often find themselves returning to the same profession, as they lack education and job opportunities elsewhere. Even when they receive support to escape this life, many return because it's the only means to sustain an income.


As a leading feminine hygiene brand, Stayfree has consistently aimed to normalize menstruation in women's lives. In this campaign, Stayfree leveraged the menstrual cycle to bring a sense of normalcy to the lives of sex workers, enabling them to find alternative sources of income and exit the red-light district.


Objectives

Stayfree's primary goals were to increase brand awareness and foster brand loyalty (brand love).

Insight

Stayfree conducted research with a group of sex workers and discovered a surprising perspective on menstruation. These women expressed that they actually enjoyed their menstrual days because it provided them with a break from work. They shared comments like, "I have time to do something for myself" and "I can spend time with my child and relax." This insight formed the foundation of the campaign's success.


The Strategy

The feminine hygiene industry had traditionally portrayed menstruation as a challenge to be overcome. However, by combining two rarely discussed topics - menstruation and sex work - the campaign aimed to change the narrative from being a taboo to sparking open conversations. Stayfree believed that the only way to make people more comfortable with menstruation was to talk about it more.


The "Project Free Period" campaign harnessed the menstrual cycle to normalize the lives of sex workers. They introduced compact, three-day skill-building workshops to enable these women to participate without disrupting their daily routines. These workshops focused on teaching easily learnable skills that could provide stable income opportunities in the future. Stayfree collaborated with the non-profit organization Prerana to create these skill-building workshops, ensuring that the content was easy to grasp and apply. Every interaction during these workshops was an opportunity to build trust, reassuring these women that they had a chance to start a new life.


Stayfree aimed to expand this initiative worldwide and sought volunteers to assist in diversifying the skill-building workshops and attracting more participants.


The Creative Idea

The campaign's tagline was simple yet powerful:

"Three days of menstruation, three days of skill-building."

The initiative transformed the three days of menstruation into three days of learning. It encouraged these women to think about a life beyond the red-light district.


Implementation

The campaign involved approximately one year of preparation. Gaining trust from the sex workers was essential, and finding reliable support partners was crucial. Stayfree needed a trusted bridge to connect with these women, and they chose Prerana, an established NGO with years of experience working with the target demographic, specializing in ending human trafficking, protecting women and children.


Workshops were organized, focusing on skills like candle making, soap making, embroidery, sandwich preparation, and basic beauty. The women particularly enjoyed candle and soap making, and they could return for more advanced lessons, further enhancing their skills and earning some income by selling their products within the community. For those unable to attend in-person workshops, the campaign created short instructional videos and offered training through WhatsApp.


The campaign also set up stalls in flea markets and shopping centers to display and sell the products created by the women, increasing community awareness of the initiative.


Social Media Outreach

On International Women's Day in 2018, Stayfree released the "Stayfree - Project Free Period" video on YouTube. They also announced a call for volunteers to teach skills through their social media channels, resulting in a significant number of volunteers joining the program. Stayfree, in collaboration with DDB Mudra, sought partnerships with various NGOs to expand the campaign's reach.


Additionally, Stayfree collaborated with influencers like Olympic medalist P.V. Shindhu and Instagram-famous Priya Malik to garner community attention for the campaign.


Support Hotline

Stayfree established a support hotline, offering a safe, private space for women to share and seek advice on challenging topics. This hotline received a highly positive response.


Results

This initiative differed from other skill-building programs for women in the red-light district. "Project Free Period" noted that no one dropped out, and each "student" attended at least one skill-building workshop.

  • 204 women registered for workshops.

  • 120 days of training, with the number of courses increasing from 8 to 40.

  • 3060 menstrual days turned into 3060 skill-building days.

  • Income generated from products reached up to $30,500 (over 2 million Indian Rupees).

  • Total reach and impressions: 20 million.

  • A total of 742 volunteers with diverse skills participated in the program.

  • The campaign gained the active support of numerous celebrities and influencers.

  • For the support hotline:

    • Total interactions reached over 1.56 million.

    • 1.16 million people participated in counseling.

    • Over 1.43 million missed calls were received.

    • Average call duration was 3.36 minutes.

    • More than 32,000 calls from the helpline were forwarded to experts.

Awards

The campaign received a Silver award in the Health & Wellness category at Cannes Lions 2018.


Conclusion

By combining a social issue with a fresh insight, the "Project Free Period" campaign achieved its brand-focused objectives and stimulated significant social discussions about a sensitive topic that society typically avoids. This campaign not only enhanced brand affection but also improved the quality of life for sex workers. It serves as an exemplary case of leveraging a brand's influence to bring about positive change.

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