It should come as no surprise that women are very different from one another. With so many unique cultures it’s often hard to find common ground with someone on the other side of the globe. Germantown native Molly Hayward experienced this firsthand when she visited Kenya last year. She was on a nonprofit mission focused on aiding women’s health in developing countries. One day while the young local girls were heading off to school, she noticed that one girl had stayed behind. Curious, Hayward asked her why she wasn’t going with the rest of her friends? The young girl told her, in her native Swahili language, that she had her period. “My period was just a nuisance, an inconvenience, or something I could cover up and it never really made a huge impact on my life,” says Hayward. “But for this girl, it was going to profoundly affect her life.”
In the United States women are fortunate enough to have incredible access to monthly care items like pads, tampons, and even menstrual pain-alleviating medicines and birth control. But women in developing countries, such as Kenya or India, do not have the means or funds to properly care for their time of the month. Seen as taboo, young girls will frequently skip an entire week of school each month to avoid the embarrassment, criticism, and difficulty of menstruating without the right protection. This eventually causes them to fall behind in their studies, resulting in the decision to drop out by the age of 12, and likely getting involved in belittling careers, like the sex trade industry, just to make ends meet. While reusable pads and cups are somewhat of a solution, the women cannot properly take care of these items due to a lack of running water and cleaning solutions like soap. Molly was determined to find a lasting resolution.
The 26-year-old Connecticut College grad is on a mission to change these women's lives, beyond just periods. She began an organization that addresses this issue in addition to creating local, sustainable jobs. Cora is the company she founded that facilitates monthly subscription menstrual-care packages, currently only available to women in the U.S., that include organic tampons, chocolate, and tea.
When you subscribe to the monthly service, you’ll also be giving a young woman in India her own monthly supply of sustainable pads. The pads provided to these women are made and manufactured where they live using a natural resource: water hyacinth plant. This plant is an “invasive species” which is particularly problematic along waterways, but the plant fibers make for the perfect biodegradable sanitary pad. Her partners Village Volunteer, a Seattle-based non-profit organization, and New Delhi-based Aakar Innovations have played crucial roles in funding and establishing the project and the pad-making facilities.
The job opportunities don’t stop there – they are creating enough of these pads to sell into the community on their own at a low cost. It’s a social enterprise in that it’s established within the community, it’s owned and operated by local women and it’s creating a product that is affordable and accessible. “Part of the model is to train women to go out into the village and sell directly to other women so that they can take a commission. It’s an easier way for women to get these products,” says Hayward. She’s also working with New Light, an organization that supports children of sex workers in the Red Light District, to deliver her product and services to this specific group of girls.
A few weeks ago, Molly launched a major crowdfunding campaign for Cora. With a goal of $28,000, and almost $4,000 raised, she hopes to build enough funds to continue to be able to purchase product inventory for the boxes, launch a global initiative that will give more women in need these necessary items, and to create a more comprehensive online presence for her brand. She also hopes to expand her efforts into Kenya and hopefully grow Cora enough to facilitate more products for women at every crucial stage in their lives. “The larger vision is to expand into offering products on a monthly basis that fills a need for women at every stage of their reproductive cycle. If you are a woman who just had a baby, you can receive postpartum products.”