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Every day around the world, women and girls face harsh consequences for getting their periods. One in 10 African girls misses school during her period. A 2016 study found that Chinese girls often resort to unhealthy menstrual-related behavior because talking about periods is so taboo. And in India, because many schools lack the plumbing necessary to support them, some girls resort to unsanitary means of changing and disposing of feminine care products.
“When girls [in India] get their periods, they are considered impure for those seven days,” Aditi Gupta, creator of the comic Menstrupedia, told TIME. “That is how I grew up, seeing myself as impure. That sense of shame was instilled in me from a very young age.”
You’d probably like to think that attitudes towards periods are much more progressive in the United States, but we have several slang terms for menstruation—“aunt flow,” “crimson tide,” “time of the month”—that say otherwise. Periods are the most natural of human experiences, yet in Western culture many women and girls still find discussing menstruation to be quite uncomfortable. A 2015 survey of 190 countries found euphemisms for menstruation in 11 different languages. Those euphemisms include Germany’s “Erdbeerwoche” (Strawberry week) and Denmark’s “Der Er Kommunister i Lysthuset” (There are communists in the funhouse).
Tackling women’s health awareness, combating period-shaming, and increasing global access to proper feminine hygiene products are no small feats. And, in many cases, it’s hard to tell who should take on such large tasks. Should it be governments? Should women do it themselves? Should businesses step in?
These three brands and organizations didn’t wait for anyone else to address the ongoing problem affecting women and girls worldwide. They’re taking on menstrual health in their own creative ways and making a difference along the way.
Cora is a monthly tampon subscription service that delivers uniquely packaged organic tampons to its subscribers. For every month’s supply of feminine products a subscriber receives, a month’s supply of sustainable pads is sent to a girl in a developing country. The goal of Cora is two-fold: 1.) to provide feminine care products with 100% transparency about what’s in them and, 2.) to help those who may not have access.
“Starting Cora in a space that hadn’t seen innovation in decades was a unique challenge,” Cora co-founder Molly Hayward tells Culture Trip. “Currently, the FDA [U.S. Food and Drug Administration] doesn’t require feminine care brands to disclose the ingredients in their tampons, meaning the industry lacks any sort of regulations that might protect the women who use tampons. Cora was created to provide full transparency to our customers by developing pure organic tampons and a business model that would tie our social impact directly to the sales of products. We wanted to ensure that it was clear to women exactly what their impact is and that as we scale, so does our impact.”
With its sleek design and innovative packaging, Cora is exactly what young, professional women need. And it helps that the product is part of a larger social cause.
“Our vision is a world where every woman has the products and information she needs to manage her period and her health, safely and with dignity,” says Hayward. “It’s a world where there’s no longer a need for Cora to have a giving initiative, because all women are able to access and afford the products they need. This year, our goal is to give over 1 million products to girls and women in need, both here in the U.S. and overseas.”
Founded by Celeste Mergens in 2008, Days for Girls is an organization dedicated to providing feminine care products and women’s health education to women and girls around the world. The Deluxe Days for Girls Kit, which is distributed globally to girls in need, includes soap, a washcloth, reusable absorbent liners, plastic bags, and panties. All of the items are placed in a decorative bag which is both discreet and festive.
“The Days for Girls Kit was developed with 28 different iterations, based on extensive feedback from women and girls throughout the world,” Mergens tells Culture Trip.
Now, Days for Girls is a leader in a global movement to reach “Every girl. Everywhere. Period.” The organization’s goal is a lofty one: to ensure every girl has access to feminine hygiene by 2022. Mergens says they’re well on their way to succeeding.
“Today, the awareness level has risen dramatically,” says Mergens. “It is wonderful to see so many articles speaking about the importance of this issue in the U.S. and globally, to see the growth within our own organization, and to witness our team members going up to complete strangers and talking about periods. Stigma and shame cannot live when we break through silence. It is a privilege and an honor to see this shift in the world.”
Modern women deserve a plethora of choices when it comes to feminine hygiene products, but many are left with a choice between just tampons and pads. For women and by women, The Keeper has been manufacturing eco-friendly menstrual cups since 1987. The mission of the company, even 30 years ago, was to produce a feminine hygiene product that was “gentle on the body, gentle on the wallet, and gentle on the Earth.”
“We believe women deserve a drawer full of choices when it comes to their bodies and there were limited options on the market,” The Keeper’s General Manager, Elizabeth Moore, tells Culture Trip. “A cup would offer a product to women who are looking for a more natural, eco-friendly, body friendly, and cost-effective choice. We truly felt that it was time to bring it back as an empowering option for women.”
Menstrual cups are reusable feminine care products that collect menstrual fluid instead of absorbing it. Today, The Keeper’s menstrual cups are available online and in stores. Moore says that she hopes the brand continues to grow, and more and more women begin to realize how easily menstrual cups can fit into their lifestyles.
“We hope more women will see the positive benefits of using a Keeper or Moon Cup and let go of the ‘yuck’ or ‘gross’ thoughts that may come to mind when they first learn of a menstrual cup,” says Moore. “We hear from women all the time who say that they ‘wish they had tried it sooner’ and hope others don’t wait so long to try one. They really can change how you experience your period in a very positive way.”