Empower to Inspire: Nze Minko breaking the period taboo
To handball fans, Estelle Nze Minko is best-known for her performances on court. The France and Györi Audi ETO KC centre back is a reigning Olympic and former world and European champion, and played at the EHF FINAL4 in 2021 and 2022.
But Nze Minko is also a fierce advocate for female athletes and has used her star power to help raise awareness of how challenging periods can be.
In an episode of the EHF's Handball Portraits series last year, Nze Minko pointed out that while talking about periods is still taboo and unusual, menstruation is a fact of life for most female athletes and can have a significant impact on performance and on the experience of being a sportswoman.
She opened up about the challenges of managing the menstrual cycle with performance, and experiencing an unexpected period while still a teenager playing for Nantes.
“I was 16 or 17 years old and we had a match in Brest,” Nze Minko said. “I got my period during the first half of the game. At half-time, I rush to the toilet and make a sort of menstrual pad out of toilet paper. I came back for the second half and at some point, I realise that my ‘pad’ is on the floor. I was in panic mode.”
Menstruation affects mood and performance, and there are other factors which can add to the challenges of playing a period – the French national team and several women’s club teams, including Györ, often play in white shorts, which makes worries about leaking pads or tampons extra stressful.
“I talk about menstruation quite openly, my experience with it and how I manage my daily life about it. You play in white shorts, and you get your period the morning of a match. Logically, hormones have an impact on your body and necessarily when practising sport,” Nze Minko said.
“It opens my eyes to these connections between the cycles of my body and my inner ability to live my life as an athlete.”
Away from the handball court Nze Minko is an entrepreneur and she is using her business to also raise awareness of taboo or unspoken topics. In late 2019 Nze Minko set up The V Box, which supplies 'mystery boxes' - a customer buys a box without knowing what it contains.
The V Box twist is that every product comes from a company founded by a woman, and often a new, growing business. Nze Minko said the boxes are made for women like her, who want "real stuff" - not just beauty products, but useful items like period underwear, and fun ones like sex toys.
“I wanted to start my own business, so I created a surprise box with little gifts inside. So each time there was a product that was a bit taboo,” she explained.
In its first two years, The V Box worked with more than 40 female-run projects, and the company's social media accounts constantly highlight new and emerging businesses led by French women as well as issues such as women's health and support for victims of domestic violence.
This is all very much in character for Nze Minko. In her Handball Portrait she said: "I try to use my small reputation to speak out about topics that can be used for others."
Photos © Anze Malovrh / kolektiff, Aniko Kovacs