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These Menstrual Cup Advocates Are Changing The Lives Of Poor Asian Women

Rebecca and Vanessa Paranjothy are the founders of Freedom Cups.
PHOTO: Freedom Cups

The concept of menstrual cups generate a lot of mixed feelings. Some women are intrigued, while others are downright disgusted. But switching from pads to cups actually has a lot of perks. Not only are they more environmentally-friendly, menstrual cups are also more economical—they last up to 10 years! Furthermore, menstrual cups have changed the lives of so many women living in poverty.

Enter Freedom Cups, a business that educates and helps women in impoverished communities gain more access to proper period sanitation.

At the Forbes’ second annual #Under30Summit, spoke to the founders of Freedom Cups, Rebecca and Vanessa Paranjothy to learn more about their advocacy.   

Tell us about Freedom Cups.

We manufacture our own menstrual cups—in an Asian size. A lot of international brands cater to Western sizing, but we’ve made our cups smaller. It’s not so much that vaginal sizes differ; we just think it’ll be easier for people to swallow [or accept] the concept this way. We operate under a buy one, give one system. For every purchase, we give one free cup to a woman who can’t afford it.

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How did you start?

We got a bunch of generic menstrual cups and went to Bacolod. We visited three rural villages with no electricty and running water just to test if there was any interest. That was our pilot program. When we first came, the village chiefs allowed us to distribute the cups, but only to the married women. We didn’t contest that. We didn’t try to tell them that their idea of virginity is wrong [because then they’ll just shut down.] After a week, the women came back to ask for cups for their daughters. And we’ve been going back ever since.

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We wanted to test our cups out with all the major religions. After the Philippines, we went to Cambodia, a predominantly Buddhist country. Next, we flew to Malaysia because of their large Muslim community. What shocked us was that the Christians were the most hesitant and the Muslims were the most open-minded.

How do you educate women about menstrual cups?

We do a lot of outreach programs. We gather the women in the courtyards and teach them about their bodies. We remind them that the vagina isn’t a big, black hole and that periods shouldn’t be something we’re afraid or ashamed of. It’s natural. We know that in a lot of major religions, we’re taught that periods are dirty. When we do our talks, we give them an objective, an explanation about why we bleed and how it happens. Of course, we also teach them about the cups—how to use it, how to keep it clean, why you shouldn’t share it, how it’s not a contraceptive, and so on.

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How do you address the issue of virginity?

Virginity is the one thing that keeps coming up—it’s not unique to communities that are largely Catholic. What a lot of people don’t realize is that the hymen isn’t a thin layer at the opening of your vagina. If that was true, you wouldn’t be able to menstruate, right? The hymen is something that some women have and others don’t. By the time we hit puberty, a lot of women don’t even have it anymore just because of normal wear and tear.

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But what we’ve found while working with the poor is that when given the choice between breaking their hymen and using something unsanitary—like leaves and sand—they’d pick the cup. Women in developing countries are far more practical. Even when the virginity question comes up, it’s more out of curiosity than fear. Women in developed nations like Singapore have a lot of options so they never think to try a menstrual cup.

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