Lady Business: Ruby Cup’s Real Menstrual Activism

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IMAGE: Ruby Cup founders Veronica d’Souza, Maxie Matthiesen and Julie Weigaard-Kjaer

Recently, I wrote about how women experiencing their cycles should at least consider switching from cotton-based products like tampons to re-useable menstrual cups. Beyond the health and financial implications of not using tampons (reduced risk of Toxic Shock Syndrome and less ongoing/monthly expense), there are a score of reasons why pulling the plug is a great option for many women.

The amount of money not ending up in the pockets of big cotton and big medical supply corporations’ coffers was one of the most important reasons to me in switching from tampons to a cup. Voting with your dollar matters. Not all votes have to be negative (by not buying products from certain companies or industries). Sometimes you can vote positively with your money by purchasing something from an ethical company with a special mission, such as the Ruby Cup.

RubyCup4The Ruby Cup comes in one standard size, which other bloggers have stated is similar in size and design to the FleurCup. Disclaimer: I have not personally used or handled a Ruby Cup, but several other bloggers have, and reviews seem to be generally positive. It’s designed to be inserted for up to 12 hours, which means it doesn’t have to be changed as frequently as non-reuseable menstrual solutions, and it is useable for a decade.

Still, those features are relatively universal to menstrual cups. What’s cool about the Ruby Cup isn’t the design; it’s the company’s model and mission. Ruby Cup is unique in that for every menstrual cup purchased by someone, another is given to a girl or woman in Kenya.

What’s the big deal about giving Kenyan girls access to safe, re-useable menstrual solutions? The impact is two-fold. First and foremost, girls in Africa are very likely to skip school during their period or drop out once their menstruation starts. The culture demands women not speak about their periods. Students often have long walks to school, and the school itself often will not have bathroom facilities, making attending during menstruation essentially impossible for many girls.

Even worse is that traditional, disposable menstrual solutions are cost-prohibitive for most young girls (at least in Kenya). According to some reports, as many as half of menstruating girls in one city’s slums are engaging in prostitution to purchase sanitary napkins.

This seems crazy to people in the Western world, but even the $0.50 for an eight-pack of pads is too much for a family or girl on the brink of starvation. Having something that a girl puts in place before leaving for school that will prevent leaks, has a high fluid capacity, and can be cleaned and re-used after school (and from period to period) will not only remove a substantial cultural and financial pressure, it will allow girls to continue their education and find truly gainful employment.

Oh, and in case you didn’t know, Ruby Cup was also founded by women and is still run by those founders, Maxie Matthiessen, Veronica D’Souza and Julie Weigaard-Kjaer. They operate in both Denmark and on-site in Kenya, and the business has received several awards for its work and business model.

Letter from a schoolgirl in Kenya

Letter from a schoolgirl in Kenya

Ruby Cup has been working since 2011 to distribute menstrual cups to school-age girls in Kenya. They work with locals, NGOs, and educational institutions to ensure a culturally appropriate educational approach when working with girls in a given community. This approach is intended to minimize cultural misunderstandings and unintentional impact from their outreach.

Instead of giving the cups away, Ruby Cup wants to ensure the girls receiving them had a sense of ownership of their cups. Originally they were selling cups directly to girls, but soon realized many of the girls could not afford the price of the cup. They began asking girls only to pay a symbolic price for the cups, which was typically around 100 shillings ($1.16 USD).

Once they found girls could often not even afford that much, the girls were instead asked to pass a simple quiz ensuring they understand how to use and care for the cup. Girls who didn’t pass were educated about the product and helped through the quiz so that they can pass. Right now, the company is working on a campaign that would not include any financial/donation requirements from the girls, only the passing of the basic caring and maintenance quiz.

You can support Ruby Cup‘s mission and buy a cup for a girl in Kenya by supporting their Indiegogo campaign. They are hoping to raise funds to give out 5,000 Ruby Cups, and have already raised about 25% of their goal.  Only $8 will ensure a girl in Africa is outfitted with a much-needed long-term menstrual solution. If you want to help spread the word, be sure to follow Ruby Cup on Facebook and share their campaign to raise funds and awareness about this critical issue facing young women in Africa.