PhD Interview Series
Research Project: Inclusivity Through Menstrual Health

DoIP Spotlight: Maria Carmen Punzi

In a monthly interview series, the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative will turn the spotlights on their PhD candidates. Learn more about their research projects, their link with inclusive prosperity and long term goals. This edition features Maria Carmen Punzi who contributes to worldwide gender equity by focusing on menstrual health.

What is your research about?

The starting point for my research is the recognition that we are still far from achieving gender equity worldwide. And while important milestones have been reached, the debate around gender equity has missed a key and utterly important topic: menstruation. In fact, although 300 million women menstruate everyday worldwide, menstruation is often kept out of programmatic efforts and political decision-making, while being concealed by the multimillion-dollar industry of menstrual products. Unfortunately, research has showed that the lack of attention to menstruation affects women’s opportunities, health and inclusive participation in society. To bring just a couple of examples, access to menstrual products and education is still inadequate for vulnerable populations; menstrual products’ manufacturers don’t need to follow ingredients’ transparency regulations; menstrual products are taxed as non-essential items and are unavailable in public spaces, schools and prisons. In our modern society it is non-state actors such as donors, for-profit organizations and civil society who assume tasks and responsibilities in the achievement of public goals. The menstrual health space is no different. Therefore, my research focuses how different stakeholders – social entrepreneurs, incumbent firms, regulators and donors – start recognizing the importance of menstrual health and integrate them in their work, to challenge the taboo that often surrounds it. I take an organizational lens because I believe it can push us to uncover and untangle the ways in which inequalities are reinforced and perpetuated through organizational discourses and practices as well as policies and regulations.

“Inclusivity Through Menstrual Health: Social Enterprises and the Challenge of Collaborative Governance for Societal Change”

How are you progressing so far and what are your main findings?

The last 12 months have been both challenging and exciting (I hear that’s common in PhD’s trajectories)! I have actively worked on two different projects, focusing on the strategies and discursive practices through which social enterprises fight the menstrual taboo and grow their ventures. In addition to that, my first book chapter was published in the newly released Handbook of Critical Menstruation Studies (it’s available to read for free!), and in it I explore the role social enterprises play in the “period revolution”. I have also organized and hosted online events around menstrual health and finally taught in the Master in Global Business and Sustainability. Let’s say, there’s no time to get bored! Main key finding? There is still work to be done and to write about when it comes to the role menstruation plays in our society. Just believe me… People tend to “hear” mental health, whenever I try to explain my research revolves around menstrual health.

In what way is your research project contributing to inclusive prosperity?

It is my hope that the insights coming from my research will contribute to reimagining programs and organizations in a way to really listen and include the people that are most often left unheard. This means including the different perspective and needs of people of different gender, race, sexual orientation and identity, as well as religion. Our society is getting richer and more unequal by the day, and consumption is often offered as a way to overcome social tension. However, wealth cannot by itself fix shame or lack of education. This means that being able to afford tampons does not automatically erase the discomfort and incorrect myths surrounding menstruation. Hopefully my research can help reimagine strategies to address such shortcomings.

What is the added value in doing your PhD at the Dynamics of Inclusive Prosperity Initiative?

Since day 1, being a member of the DoIP group has been an enriching and fun experience. It allowed me to gain different perspectives on my topic, as well as learn about other disciplines I never had a chance to dive into. I particularly appreciate the detailed feedback and honest opinions members share with each other, and it’s honestly reinvigorating to see so many scholars caring about the state of the world, the planet and society. Finally, I am grateful to be part of the DoIP PhD group! It’s a fun and inspiring group of smart people, who are in both for a drink in the sun and for more serious talk about life and work in the academic institution!

What are your ambitions for the future?

As a critical thinker and writer, I hope to first of all prove the importance of investing in menstrual health, both in academia and in practice. I believe that bringing menstruation into the academic conversation can help us develop a new lens to address gender inequity and rethink what it means to work with and for women. Finally, I hope to contribute, even if in small, incremental steps, to a world where women and people who experience menstruation can thrive and no one bleeds in shame, pain or isolation.

PhD student
Maria Carmen Punzi
More information

Promotor: Prof. Pursey Heugens (RSM)
2nd Promotor: Prof. Peter Mascini (ESL)
Daily Supervisor: Dr. Mirjam Werner (RSM)

Starting date of PhD: September 2019
Expected end date: September 2024