Menstrual cup- For many women around the world this is an eco friendly, go green, reusable alternative to sanitary pads and tampons. But how about providing this sustainable and healthy menstrual hygiene solution to women and girls worldwide? It was this very thought that brought together the founders of Ruby Cup – Veronica D’Souza, Maxie Matthiessen and Julie Weigaard Kjaer when they met at Copenhagen Business School in 2005.
Annet Silaho, a 15 year old school girl from Kenya wrote to Ruby cup when she became a user. “My first day when I started my menstruation period, I used rags. My father did not afford to buy me a pad and I did not know anyone who could help me buy a pad. My mother had already been dead. I felt ashamed of myself and I stayed at home because I thought it was not normal.” But later she was introduced to Ruby cup after using pads for a while and realized it saved her dad’s money and also she is not shy anymore about her menstruation. Like Annet there are many more girls in Kenya who have written to Ruby cup on how using a ruby cup has helped them and what it means to them.
Shaped like a bell, a menstrual cup is worn siimilar to a tampon. But it collects the menstrual blood rather than absorbing it. Every few hours a menstruating woman needs to empty it and clean it under running water. At the end of the period it can be sterilized to be used for the next month.
The idea of introducing menstrual cups in developing countries came to the founders of Ruby cup after they became users themselves. As they dug deeper, researching their basic plan, the trio figured how big a problem menstruation was on a global scale. For instance in Kenya, many girls do not have access to sanitary napkins. Tampons are rarely used and are extremely expensive. So they resort to rags, old socks, bark or even newspapers. These materials are not absorbent. So many girls stay home. They would skip school for fear of leaking and staining their clothes in public, and being teased.
It was important to get this fear off the young girls’ minds and help them get back to school. Team Ruby cup decided that for every Ruby Cup they sold online, they would donate another one to a girl in Kenya, Uganda or Tanzania.
Their model – Buy One Give One cup worked well in schools and working with local partners helped them to reach out to many girls and women in developing countries. Though Ruby Cup’s focus country is Kenya, they also have partners in Zambia, South Africa, and Uganda.
Very often, menstruation is a taboo subject for most of the school girls and it is quite a challenge to get the girls open up their fears and talk freely. Ruby Cup works closely with communities, schools, girls clubs, community based organizations, and NGOs helping them to introduce Ruby Cup to new schools. At the same time the girls parents’ and families and the local community are also kept in the loop. Their consent and inclusive approach helps in reaching out to them in a better way, at the same time keeping the entire community aware of the programme.
Amaia Arranz, is the Partnerships Manager at Ruby cup. “Our partners Femme International, Golden Girls Foundation, Womena receive and carry out the donations, identifying the schools and community projects, ensuring they have the right resources to distribute Ruby Cup.” She says. “We are very lucky to work with a local trainers that deliver training in Swahili and are very gifted when it comes to creating the right atmosphere of trust and encourage the girls to talk about menstruation (very often a taboo subject) and ask any questions they may have” she adds.
Menstrual kits and motivation
Femme International focuses on empowering girls. They help schools fight against the high dropout rates in school due to the lack of sanitary products. They distribute Femme Kits that include soap and a Ruby Cup amongst other things. Golden Girls Foundation ensures that there is a woman mentor at every Ruby Cup distribution project that is able to offer support and guidance to girls. And Womena provides implementation support of the Ruby cups in schools.
The introduction of the femme kits has led to increased attendance in many schools. More than 50 percent of the girls would leave the school because of their periods. After the introduction of the femme kits, this number shrunk to 4 percent. 56 percent of the girls would miss nearly 2 to 4 days in school due to their periods. This number too dropped to 5 percent. While more than 80 percent said that they could concentrate better as they did not worried about leaking, more than 75 percent of the girls showed great improvement in their academic performance.
Amaia says “So far we have donated 13,000 Ruby Cups and distributed another 3000 through selling them to NGOs at discounted prices.”
The cups are distributed through education and training programmes. The young girls are taught all about female anatomy, reproductive health, and menstrual hygiene and how to use Ruby Cup. This is reviewed from time to time with follow up sessions to see how the new users are adapting to using the cup.
Ruby Cup is growing and looking for partners to expand its operations. The founders of Ruby cup believe “that all women deserve the best. Let’s show the world what happens when we give positive change a try.”
Let’s help them achieve this mission. Let’s Buy one and give one.
(With inputs from the Ruby cup website and interview with Amaia Arranz – Partnership manager at Ruby Cup)