Last year, I travelled with a non-profit organization called A Voice is Heard to help deliver birthing kits to midwives in remote Maasai villages in Southern Kenya. One hot, dusty afternoon we visited a remote village where I met a girl about 12 years old. As I tried to speak with her, I was overwhelmed by the feeling that I could not possibly relate to this girl. We were from different worlds.
I awkwardly asked her why she was not in school with the rest of the children. “Hedhi,” she said in Swahili. She had her period.
And in that moment, I realized that while this girl and I have vastly different life experiences, every month she and I both bleed.
My period was just a monthly nuisance that made me tired and intensified my desire for carbohydrates and dark chocolate. For this girl, it was unmentionable and stigmatized, and could alter the course of her life. Without access to affordable sanitary pads, she would be forced to stay home from school, causing her to fall behind and potentially drop out altogether.
When I returned home, the young girl’s story haunted me. I knew there were millions of girls like her around the world.
This caused me to examine my own experience of menstruation, and of the women in my own culture. I realized; We are not so different from that girl. Yes, we have products, but they are contaminated with pesticides and toxic chemicals that amplify our likelihood of developing gynecological cancers and other reproductive diseases. Menstruation is not so taboo in our culture, but still we are silent and mostly ignorant about its significance in our physical, psychological, and spiritual lives.
I wanted to find a way to connect women around this issue, and change the experience of menstruation, and therefore womanhood, on a global scale.
So I created a company called Cora. Cora delivers safe, healthy organic tampons, pads, and liners, plus tea and artisan chocolate, to women monthly, by mail. For every box shipped monthly to a woman in the United States, we provide a month’s supply of sustainable sanitary pads to a girl in a developing country who would otherwise miss days of school each month during her period.
We are beginning our giving initiative with girls in India, where 88% of girls lack access to affordable menstrual management products, and 1 in 4 girls will drop out of school at puberty. The majority of girls, also, lack basic knowledge of reproductive health and hygiene. Without sanitary pads, girls in India resort to using old rags, mud, or ash to absorb their flow of blood. But these methods are ineffective, so girls stay home for fear of an embarrassing leak. These methods are also unhygienic, causing vaginal infections that are difficult to treat.
We have partnered with Aakar Innovations and Village Volunteers, who are establishing small-scale pad manufacturing in slums and rural villages, creating jobs for women and a sustainable source of affordable, biodegradable pads for entire communities.
The model begins with small scale, woman owned and operated pad manufacturing units. The pads are made of environmentally sustainable plant fibers, making them disposable, biodegradable, and affordable. Jobs for women are created, the local economy is strengthened, and an affordable source of pads is created for the entire community. Cora then purchases the pads that are produced and they are distributed to girls who need them, generating revenue for the manufacturing group and ensuring that girls never have to worry about purchasing sanitary pads.
The young women Cora helps in India are supported by New Light in Kolkata. Many are the children of sex workers in Kolkata’s red light district. Education is their greatest hope for a better future. Without it, they are susceptible to being trapped in poverty and drawn into the sex trade themselves. Having menstrual management supplies is an essential aspect of the equation for keeping girls in school.
We need you to stand with us.
This month, Cora is crowd funding to raise capital and awareness to expand our global initiative so we can reach more girls and women around the world. See the video that’s igniting our movement and then share it with the women in your life, because we are sisters, our fates are tied, and we deserve better.