Use Your Period To Empower Women Around The World. Seriously! Here’s How

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Growing up in the Western world, you don’t really think twice about having your period. You just buy your monthly supply of tampons or pads, which are available at pretty much every grocery store, convenience store or pharmacy, and get on with your life. For one week out of every month, you perhaps change the type of underwear you put on every day, but other than that having a menstrual cycle is just an ordinary part of your routine.

However in certain countries around the world, menstruating is seen as a sign of a woman being “unclean” and there are cultures which shun women during their periods. Added to that, resources to help them during their cycle may be scarce or not even exist at all and women are left to use rudimentary methods that can be unhygienic, or even dangerous.

In rural parts of India, a man named Arunachalam Muruganantham, aka “Menstrual Man” has become a revolutionary in feminine hygiene products for women who live in remote villages. His own wife left him because society thought what he was doing was ridiculous. He saw that women were using dirty rags and worse during their menstrual cycle and wanted to help. So he would collect used pads (often too expensive or inaccessible for women in rural areas) to figure out how to make a less expensive prototype. Eventually his wife saw sense and came back to him, and now he is a local and international hero, with a badass TED talk under his belt.

While this gentleman and story is worthy of praise, it shouldn’t be. Women should be able to have access to feminine hygiene products and not be obstructed by cultural superstitions and attitudes that view them as something of a social outcast for a normal bodily function. Unfortunately it will take time and a lot of effort to change this stigma.

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Fortunately, there are people like Menstrual Man, and now another company called Sheva, who are going to the places where women are in need, and offering them pads and tampons.

Sheva was launched in October 2014 by entrepreneur Marisabel Ruiz whose mission is to equip every girl in Guatemala with hygiene products so that they don’t have to alter their lives drastically each month to accommodate a bodily function. Marisabel was born and raised in Guatemala and she wants to empower one million girls by 2025.

“In many developing countries, menstruation represents inequality, and low-income girls cannot afford sanitary pads. They feel uncomfortable, insecure, and embarrassed while on their periods; and as a result, more than 800 million girls around the world miss school ONE WEEK EVERY MONTH. When they miss school, they can’t learn, and when they can’t learn, they can’t succeed. The consequences are devastating; many girls are trapped in a bloody cycle of poverty and disempowerment which they can’t get out of,” says the website about how dire this situation is.

“I believe girls are the most powerful forces in changing a community,” Marisabel told Mashable. “But a lot of girls in developing countries do not have access to basic sanitary protection. My mission is to help these girls succeed by giving them the tools and information they need to continue their education, and continue their lives.”

They have designed a program which they call the “giving cycle”. Here’s how it works. Instead of going to a grocery store to buy tampons, each of us can purchase what we want through their site which offer a range of brands and products (including pregnancy tests) for our menstrual needs. For every product purchased, they donate a box filled with sanitary needs and distribute them to women overseas through local NGO partner organizations such as the anti-poverty organization Asopuente and Congregación Marta y Maria, a girls’ home in Jalapa.

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The products you buy on the Sheva site may be a tad more expensive than at your local pharmacy or grocery store, but the difference is is the social value attached which goes a long long way.

The company started with just $60,000 of seed money raised by friends and family but they hope to increase that amount with another round of funding. The Sheva model and idea is so genius it is already getting the attention of some major companies which have expressed interested in the site, according to Mashable.

Marisabel was inspired by other brands who have a major social good “one for one” component such as TOMS and Warby Parker. And while she recognizes that supplying girls with tampons and pads isn’t a solution to the underlying problem of poverty, she plans to use her business to expand her empowerment model for girls in Guatemala.

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Through their NGO partners, Sheva is working to establish an education program that teaches girls about menstruation, helps them with confidence and self-esteem in battling negative social stigma about their bodies, and also the importance of personal healthcare.

They have also partnered with local healthcare centers to work on producing their own sanitary products from local materials in order to create a sustainable model that doesn’t rely on donated items forever.

Marisabel told Mashable they have plans to keep expanding and building on their existing model, and even further their reach in regions like Asia and Europe. Aside from the social enterprise aspect, which is not only impressive but is becoming a space for many young females to thrive, Sheva wants to break down stigma around women’s bodies and around the word “vagina”. In fact on the homepage this is what you see:

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Feminism at its finest!

In Guatemala, where the company is based, one sanitary pad costs $1, which is more than what most girls make in a day, reports CNN Money. Many girls don’t even know what their period is.

Access to menstrual products and education is a global issue: Only 12% of India’s 335 million women use sanitary napkins, according to the United Nations, which has also called the “stigma around menstruation and menstrual hygiene a violation of several human rights, most importantly of the right to human dignity.”

According to a 2012 WaterAid survey, 48% of girls in Iran and 10% of girls in India thought menstruation was a disease. UNICEF found that 66% of girls in South Asia didn’t know anything about menstruation before their first period.

“We’re not just providing sanitary pads. When a girl is able to finish basic or primary school, she is going to have a ripple effect in her family and her community. What I want to do is cause this movement, and an awareness that this is happening. Together, women can help each other out,” said Marisabel.

Marisabel and her small team at Sheva describe periods as a “superpower” in that she wants the rural women to celebrate their bodies and what being a woman entails. And it’s not just the rural women who should be celebrating. In the developed world, a woman on her period has its own stigma. It is the butt of many jokes, it is blamed as the reason for making women irrational or crazy, and it is generally thought of as something that shouldn’t be talked about in public.

Well screw that, vaginas are amazing and we shouldn’t be ashamed of our bodies! Sheva is inspiring you to use your monthly visitor as a means to global empowerment.


 

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