The CORA Project: Tackling Period Poverty
Menstruation – a word that can evoke many different reactions, some positive, some negative. Fortunately, there has been a growing movement towards ending the stigma around periods, and topics around menstruation, women's health, and body positivity are being more openly discussed on social media platforms.
And while many people who menstruate are increasingly sharing their period stories and experiences with confidence, others are still left feeling ashamed, unsupported, and in-the-dark about the cycles that their bodies go through.
Period poverty is a term used to describe a lack of access to menstrual products and menstrual hygiene education, which in turn leads to menstruators missing school or work, increased stigma and shame around periods, higher rates of depression and anxiety, and unequal access to opportunities.
In South Africa, 1 in 3 people who menstruate miss school because they do not have access to or cannot afford to buy sanitary products. Many end up using old cloths and newspapers as sanitary pads, which leads to infection and health problems. There is then also the problem of teasing and shaming in schools, due to lack of education and awareness on the topic. This is a violation of basic human rights, and perpetuates gender inequalities.
The CORA Project is a women-led NPO based in South Africa, whose mission is to combat period poverty through education, access, and skills development. We got in touch with Aurora, one of the co-founders of The CORA Project, to discuss how they are doing their part to tackle this ever-present issue in SA.
The CORA Project was founded in 2020 by sisters Aurora and Cleopatra Marcopoulos. During the national COVID-19 lockdown, many people were left vulnerable, without work, and facing social injustices. Driven by the desire to serve and help their local communities, Aurora and Cleopatra set up The CORA Project as an initiative to support other NPOs.
“After a few months, we had such positive feedback that we decided to register ourselves as an NPO to legitimize the process and open a bank account so that people could donate funds.”
Both sisters are passionate about women's empowerment and social issues, and period poverty was always an issue that had been close to their hearts.
“We think that having a period shouldn't be something that leads to unequal access to education and opportunities. We believe that when people are more educated on menstruation and period poverty, they are less likely to see the 'taboo' that is associated with having a period. There's a lot of stigma and shaming, so people are often too scared to ask for help and support, and end up missing out on opportunities,” says Aurora.
The CORA Project's mission to fight period poverty consists of three key avenues: Access, Education, and Skills Development. They have grown tremendously since launching, and have now registered as a Public Benefit Organization, doing regular projects and spreading to Durban and Kimberley, among other cities.
Funds raised by The CORA Project go into sanitary product drives and distribution amongst communities and schools in need, as well as funding resources needed for workshops. Their Pledge Red Campaign is a nationwide movement aimed at combating period poverty in schools. The campaign encourages schools to accept six core pledges to raise awareness and tackle the stigma around menstruation. By Pledging Red, school learners as well as staff become a part of a network that has access to resources and mentorship programs.
One of Aurora's highlights since co-founding The CORA Project has been their #RunForHer campaign, an annual campaign held in Women's Month (August) where participants pledge a monetary donation for every kilometer run. Funds raised through this also go towards awareness campaigns, sanitary product drives, and workshops. From bigger brands, such as Cotton On Africa, to determined individuals, partners and participants share the run on social media and openly pledge to fight period poverty, thus creating a tight-knit and passionate community all around South Africa.
Another key aspect of The CORA Project is their skills development program, where women from underprivileged communities are taught to sew reusable pads, which they can either use themselves or choose to sell to others. This gives them the opportunity to start their own small businesses to support themselves and their community through entrepreneurship.
“We don't just want to give out a pad and it's done. We want to touch people's lives.”
So what does The CORA Project hope to achieve over the next few years?
“We want to continue expanding to all major cities across South Africa. We want sustainable change that impacts people for the long-term.”
And when asked who could get involved in The CORA Project and how, Aurora made it clear that anyone who is passionate about the cause can get involved.
“The average person can support this cause simply by having open conversations about periods, encouraging period positivity, and calling people out when they speak with negative rhetoric around the topic.”
Aurora goes on to say, “Anything you feel passionate about, you just have to start asking questions. Keep the passion. Call organizations, send an email, see where you can help. Pro-activity is key.”
The bottom line is, if you feel called to get involved and support an issue close to your heart, just do it. Big changes are made by small starts.
You can also shop from the T-Shirts for Change exclusive store here (SA) and here (UK), where a portion of profits made from all exclusive product sales will go towards a menstrual product drive, donated to The CORA Project for distribution amongst schools and communities in need.