Natalia Vodianova on Why Every Woman Should Have Access to Period Care

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Natalia Vodianova may be best known as the Russian supermodel who has taken the fashion world by storm for the last two decades, but she’s also a staunch activist for women’s health—an issue that is, in fact, very close to the Soviet Union-born 39-year-old’s heart. “[Where] I was brought up, gynecology was something that was shameful—and anything to do with menstruation or any kind of sexual relationship was hush-hush and something you didn’t really talk about,” recalls Vodianova, who notes that, even as she became one of the industry’s most in-demand faces, she continued to be embarrassed when she had to ask for a tampon or when she stained a hotel’s sheets.

Eventually, as she overcame her insecurities, she began to fight for women who may still feel the sense of shame that once plagued her. In addition to investing in the period-tracking app Flo, and asking friends such as Emily Ratajkowski and Doutzen Kroes to open up about their own early experiences with menstruating in her video series “Let’s Talk About it. Period.,” she teamed up with the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), an organization that supports the health and dignity of women around the world. 

“In humanitarian crises, we think of [how we can provide] water, food, and shelter, but often menstruation [care] is overlooked completely,” explains Vodianova, a United Nations Goodwill Ambassador. “Already being in a very, very tough situation, but also not being able to manage your period with dignity, is a huge burden and a double stigmatization.” It’s for this reason that UNFPA first began distributing Dignity Kits to women and girls in conflict zones. (Last year, 1.4 million kits were handed out across 58 countries.) Housed inside a small backpack or bucket, each kit comes stocked with a number of essentials, including a flashlight, washing powder, dark-colored underwear, and a reusable menstrual pad set as well as disposable menstrual pads. 

“I once had the opportunity to speak to a woman who had survived a cyclone in 2019 in Mozambique. She was stuck on a tree for hours trying to survive, and suddenly her period came in the middle of all of this. When she was finally rescued, she was put on a boat with a bunch of men and blood was running down her legs. She [remembered thinking], ‘I would rather die than feel this shame,’” says Vodianova, continuing: “When she got into the refugee camp she was met with a Dignity Kit from the UNFPA. She told me, ‘That changed my life.’ She felt really empowered, and she became an ambassador in this camp to convince other women to take the kit and use proper sanitary products.”

Ultimately, Vodianova emphasizes, “Sanitary products are as essential as toilet paper and soap, which are freely provided in every bathroom around the world unquestionably, but when it comes to pads and tampons and other ways to manage periods then suddenly it’s a woman’s problem and she needs to manage it [alone].” With International Menstruation Day just around the corner, she stresses: “Menstruation is as natural as eating and sleeping—and we need to treat it as such; we need to put all our effort into breaking the shame and stigma around this very, very natural event in our lives.” 

Below, watch Natalia Vodianova unbox a UNFPA Dignity Kit—and, for $15, send one to a woman in need



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