Before I founded Cora, a women’s wellness brand with an emphasis on sustainable products and doing good in the world, I took a trip to Kenya that forever changed how I understood women’s health and the taboos that have long prevented its evolution as an industry—and as a conversation.
While in Kenya, I met a young girl named Purity. She told me about how she and other girls in her village didn’t go to school when they had their periods because they didn’t have access to pads. They resorted to using sand, dirty rags, and whatever else they could find to manage their periods, which often resulted in using products that were unsafe or unsanitary.
After leaving Kenya, I began to look deeper into this issue and was shocked by how common period poverty is around the world. But as I reflected more on it, sadly, it made sense.
Even growing up in the U.S. with access to period products, my friends and I still hid our tampons up our sleeves when walking to the bathroom. The pervasive shame that accompanied our periods limited our conversations to whispers, praying the boys wouldn’t hear or see as we swapped pads from one backpack to another. It wasn’t just the girls I met in Kenya who were afraid to ask for what they needed to manage their periods—it was girls all over the world.
Open dialogue about our bodies may not seem like the most impactful solution to women’s health issues around the world, but it’s an important start and one that, frankly, we’re failing at. When we keep conversations about women’s health to a nudge, nudge or “it happens to all of us,” we are hurting women. This false sense of camaraderie that stems from classifying common issues as ‘normal’ holds women back from asking questions and seeking solutions.
Another example where we’re failing to progress women’s health is bladder leakage, an issue which we’ve reduced entirely to a narrative of something that happens to everyone after giving birth and as you grow old—even though there are preventative ways to treat and manage urinary incontinence of which many women who suffer remain unaware.
In creating both period and bladder leakage products for women through Cora, I’ve become acutely aware of how many brilliant, ambitious, and self-aware women lack understanding of their bodies. Because while modern women may be more open and willing to talk about taboo topics like sex, money, and politics, it seems our vaginas are the last frontier.
The first thing we can do is educate ourselves—ask questions, read articles, talk to your doctor or wellness practitioner and the trusted women in your life. Share what you learn. A great example of something many women don’t realize, but which is such beneficial information for anyone with a period, is the way the four phases of the menstrual cycle impact us. I’ve personally found that by tracking and understanding my cycle, I have fewer days where I’m confused by nagging negativity or a sudden burst of confidence. As with most things on earth, these feelings and emotions rotate in a cycle—a predictable one, once you know what to look for. The more you learn about the wisdom within your own body, the more you hold space and reverence for its cycles and needs, the more likely you will be to accept it as it is, shedding shame and inspiring the women around you.
I don’t have all the answers, but I’m happy to open the dialogue. I know that when women speak honestly about their periods, about bladder leakage and mental health, sex and menopause and fertility, pregnancy loss and abortion, we are all more free because we are not alone. When we normalize these discussions in our groups of friends, even at our workplaces and family dinners, we learn from one another so that we no longer have to accept embarrassment and uncertainty as the status quo.
Just because an issue is common doesn’t mean it has to be normal. Let’s change the narrative by starting the conversation.