You may think of your period as an annoyance, but it likely doesn't preclude you from participating in your life. It's not as if we have to forego all work and social interactions and camp out at home whenever that time of the month hits (even if we sometimes wish we could). For women and girls in developing countries, however, access to sanitary supplies isn't guaranteed, and the implications are serious: A menstrual cup, pad, or tampon can mean the difference between attending school or work and staying home, between comfort and humiliation, or between infection and health.
The expense of sanitary supplies can be a big barrier for these women and girls. As Sabrina Rubil pointed out in The Huffington Post last month, in Kenya, a pack of sanitary pads costs 75 Kenyan shillings, or 30 U.S. cents. That may not sound like a lot, but an average day's wage for an unskilled worker in Kenya is around $1.30 — making pads prohibitively pricey for many. Women and girls are forced to use rags, mattress stuffing, leaves, straw, mud, or newspapers to stem their flows — methods that are ineffective and can even cause genital infection. A lack of sanitary supplies and toilets, coupled with stigma and embarrassment, keeps untold numbers of girls at home while they are menstruating: Days For Girls International estimates that over the course of three years, girls can miss up to eight months of school because of their periods. A handful of organizations are working to deliver reusable sanitary pads to the communities that need them most. Now, there's another solution to the problem: menstrual cups.
Although menstrual cups are sanitary, reusable, and provide up to 12 hours of protection, they're not mainstream yet — not even in the developed world. Menstrual-cup maker Ruby Cup is out to change that. "Every time a cup is sold to a girl or woman in Canada or other 'rich countries' via our online shop," Ruby Cup co-founder Maxie Matthiessen explains, "we donate one product to our partners, such as Femme International, who help us distribute the cups to communities [in developing countries] — and also do valuable educational work about menstrual hygiene."
Ruby Cup believes that menstrual cups represent a step forward in feminine hygiene: "They're a better alternative than sanitary pads because they last for a long time (10 years)...and do not contain bleach or perfume like many pads and tampons do," Matthiessen says. "They are very comfortable to wear and have a higher capacity, meaning that girls can wear them for up to 12 hours while in school or working in the fields." Head to Ruby Cup to join the movement — but first, read up on making the switch from tampons to cups. They just might change your life, too.