You get sent some funny things when you work on a newspaper. The biblical tracts and the green-ink letters are pretty strange, but the things that come from companies wanting writers to mention their products are often far weirder. The huge box of sex toys that arrived on the news desk some years ago sticks in the mind, as do the cakes that were sent to a couple of colleagues which had their faces printed, life-size, on the icing. A STI-testing kit that turned up a few weeks ago certainly caused some comments about the person whose desk it landed on. I also remember being sent an enormous selection of sanitary products earlier this year. (Spoiler alert: this column contains tampons).
While it shouldn’t be odd to receive consumer goods that a huge part of the population use, I couldn’t quite imagine what I’d write about them. We review cars, but not pantyliners. If an app knocks our socks off, we’re happily devote column inches to it, but a super-absorbent tampon with a groovy new applicator? Oh no thank you. It might make people squeamish. Who wants to read about products that combat Female Monthly Unpleasantness? So whenever I do receive something along these lines, I always spare a thought for the PR person sending them out. Having worked in PR once upon a time, I know that it’s hard enough to get people to write about rucksacks and energy drinks. New inventions in the world of sanitary towels are a tough sell.
So I take off my imaginary hat to Edith Bowman. Rather than using her profile to flog yoghurts or shampoo (does anyone else feel murderous when that Nicole Scherzinger “Mullerlicious” ad comes on the telly?), she’s working with Always and UNESCO to share some information that even the squeamish among us should know. Girls in Senegal are falling behind at school because of their periods. They don’t have access to the disposable sanitary products that we take for granted but don’t like to mention, and end up staying at home when they have their period. Three quarters of Senegalese girls don’t finish school because they don't want to draw attention to themselves. So for every pack of UNESCO-marked Always purchased from Tesco, a school lesson will be donated to a girl in Senegal. Yes, I know Tesco is terrible, and that Always gets to look good while flogging its products, but if it means more girls get to go to school, I’m happy to break the habit of a lifetime and write about tampons.