Having access to a wide range of feminine hygiene products is something that women in the developed world may take for granted, whether it's choosing between organic cotton disposables or more environmentally friendly and less costly cloth pads and menstrual cups.
But as one commenter brought up in my recent post "7 Powerful reasons why you should switch to reusable menstrual products," access to menstrual products is one barrier that women in developing countries often face in getting equal access to education and work -- as disposables and even cloth pads are unaffordable. Priced at around $30 to $40 and lasting 10 years, menstrual cups are the most cost-effective, durable and versatile option out there. So it's heartening to see that Berlin-based company Ruby Cup is not only selling a smart product, but also providing much-needed menstrual cups to schoolgirls in Africa in their "Buy One, Give One" program.
Social impact of buy one, give oneBeing able to go about our daily business while having our periods is something many of us don't give a second thought to. But for many girls and women around the world, having their period means staying home out of embarrassment and fear of stains due to the fact that they cannot afford decent menstrual products. Founders Maxie Matthiessen, Julie Weigaard Kjaer and Veronica D'Souza of Ruby Cup tell their story of how they began their social venture in Africa:
[..] By June 2011, we were on our way to Kenya and producing Ruby Cups. That first month we spoke to women’s groups, girls, NGOs, government agencies and even taxi drivers about the issue and were appalled to learn what proportion of a family’s income could go into buying sanitary products - if they could afford to buy any at all. We were equally shocked by the alternatives women and girls are forced to find: sheets, rags, mud, bark or pieces of mattress. The feedback on our simple idea was extremely positive – with many asking "Where can I get one?!"
We asked Ruby Cup to clarify their "Buy One Give One" program a bit more, as schoolgirls are asked to contribute a "symbolic price" for their Ruby Cups. This move goes along the lines of a "pay what you can" model, to encourage the girls' self-reliance and sense of ownership in taking good care of their cups, though no girl is ever refused one for lack of funds.
How many women don't have choices when it comes to menstruationWatching this video via Kenya CitizenTV provides sobering insight to how hundreds of thousands of girls in Kenya deal with their period every month:
Roughly half of all girls in slums of Kenya have sex with older men in exchange for sanitary napkins. In response to these estimates, healthcare advocates are distributing napkins to girls as part of a nationwide campaign.
It's funny how menstruation is truly the "biggest white elephant in the smallest room" -- no one talks about it much, but if the fortunes of women worldwide are to be lifted, one surefire way would be to provide a long-lasting, cheaper menstrual option for women in the developing world. Taboos and cultural shame have to be tackled too; to help mitigate this, Ruby Cup's field team in Africa also combines the cups with workshops on reproductive education. Let's hope that this is just the beginning of the tide. For more information on Ruby Cup's products, check out the website.
UPDATE: Ruby Cup recently launched a crowdfunding campaign on Indiegogo to equip 5,000 African schoolgirls with menstrual cups, in order to keep them in school and not at home during their periods. Check out the campaign here if you would like to support equal access to education.