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“If there is to be a future, it will wear a crown of feminine design.” –Sri Aurobindo
Eighteen months ago, a single conversation with an eleven-year-old girl in Kenya changed my life.
I was traveling at the time with a non-profit organization, helping to deliver birthing kits to midwives in remote and impoverished Maasai villages deep in the Kenyan scrubland.
One day, we drove over rough terrain for two hours to a particularly isolated village. The women wore beautiful, brightly colored shukas and layers of beaded jewelry, and the young warrior men carried spears for lion hunting and donned fearsome horned headdresses. A $1500 plane ticket and twenty-four hours had transported me from my cosmopolitan home and bounty of Western world privileges to a place where water is a luxury and the culture has remained largely unchanged for hundreds of years.
There couldn’t be a group of people with an experience of life more different than my own.
Walking without purpose around the village, I met a girl. We greeted each other in a mix of English and Swahili. Again, I sensed an immense chasm between us as a result of our unthinkably different lives. Innocently, I asked her why she wasn’t in school.
She looked down at her bare feet. “Hedhi,” she said quietly in Swahili. She had her period.
And I realized then that while this girl and I had utterly different experiences of life in nearly every way, each month she and I both bleed.
For me, my period was a monthly nuisance that made me tired and intensified my desire for carbohydrates and dark chocolate. For her, it was deeply stigmatized, and would alter the course of her life. Unable to afford or access sanitary pads, she stayed home from school for days each month during her period. If she fell behind and dropped out as many girls do when they miss days of school each month, she would likely marry and have children at a young age, and be unable to ever liberate herself from poverty. She would be unable to shape her own future.
The Poverty of the Western Woman
When I returned home to the U.S., that girl haunted me, because I knew there were hundreds of millions of other girls like her around the world.
I began to reflect on my own experiences and perspectives on my period, and those of my sisters and friends and the women in my own society. The more I learned the more I realized: we are not so different from that girl.
Yes, even as economically privileged women we face our own poverty of womanhood. Sure, we have access to more products for managing our periods than we could ever need, but the products that we buy from at the drugstore are made with cotton that has been sprayed with pesticides, and toxic synthetics that amplify our likelihood of Toxic Shock Syndrome, endometriosis, infertility, gynecological cancer, and other reproductive diseases.
We then place these products in or next to some of the most permeable tissue in our bodies, polluting our delicate ecosystems over the course of our reproductive lives for an aggregate of 10 years.
Furthermore, menstruation is not so taboo in our culture as it is in others, but still we are silent and mostly ignorant about its significance to our physical, psychological, and spiritual lives.
There was a time in history when women lived according to their cycles and were worshipped and revered for their life-giving power. But when masculine power sought dominance, all things feminine, including menstruation, were demonized and degraded, and we are still battling that stigma today.
Most of us are disconnected from the natural rhythms of our bodies because the masculine structure of our society does not accommodate what it would ask of us. The point in our cycle when we bleed, for example, is an in-built and natural time for physical and mental rest (hence why we typically feel tired and foggy), as well as deep spiritual reflection. But instead of resting, we pop painkillers, double our lattes, and push through it because we don’t see it as a legitimate reason to slow down.
Instead of worshiping our female bodies, we demonize them. Instead of standing in awe and reverence of their immense power and intuition, we seek to control them. The capacity to create life is our most sacred power, but when we inflict hatred or resentment on the process that allows for it, we profoundly degrade our personal power.
Instead of flowing through life according to our natural instincts and bodily desires, we ignore them in order to conform to a way of living that wasn’t designed with consideration for our sex and indeed oppresses us in systematic ways.
A Periodic Revolution
My divinely feminine soul was awakening, and I ached for a way to reconnect women around this universal experience—to change the negative experience of menstruation, and therefore womanhood, on a global scale.
So I created a company called Cora. Cora delivers safe and healthy organic tampons, pads, and liners, plus tea and artisan chocolate, to women monthly by mail. For every monthly box shipped to a woman in the U.S., we give 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’re starting our giving initiative in India, where 88% of girls lack access to affordable sanitary pads, and one in four girls will drop out of school at puberty. Without pads, they resort to using old rags, mud, or ash. But these methods are ineffective, so girls stay home for fear of a humiliating leak. They are also unhygienic, causing vaginal infections that are difficult to treat.
Many of the girls are the daughters of sex workers in Kolkata’s red light district. Education is their greatest hope for a different life. Without it, they are trapped in poverty—likely to become prostitutes themselves just to survive.
A New World for Women
When we uphold the validity of our bodies’ internal cycles, and give ourselves permission to live according to its engrained wisdom, we live as our truest selves. We are liberated to make choices in our day-to-day lives that are rooted in a deeper knowing, and honor desires that are encoded in our DNA.
Changing the experience of menstruation globally begins with a reverence for every aspect of women’s lives.
Honoring womanhood is a personal practice first, but the bounds of its impact are endless. @Molly_Hayward (Click to Tweet)
Molly Hayward is the Founder & CEO of Cora, the world’s first and only monthly subscription company supporting women’s health and education globally.
Cora is currently crowdfunding $28,000 to launch its operations in the U.S. and India. See the video that’s igniting their movement and become a backer of their campaign at plumalley.co/en/cora. Learn more about Cora’s movement for women globally at www.corawomen.com, contact Molly directly at email@example.com or follow her on Twitter.June 30, 2014