From sari rags to sale tags 

Inspired by the adversities in her past, Ruby Raut creates an eco-friendly alternative for women on their periods 

Imagine being banished to a poorly ventilated, claustrophobic, unhygienic cattle shed for 4-7 days at the beginning of your transition to puberty.

As a woman, imagine being told you can’t touch cattle, green vegetables, plants or the opposing gender due to a natural part of life. Menstruation.

Some fear these actions will anger a god or goddess and people, livestock and crops would be destined to die.

For the western world, it’s quite a bizarre concept, however this is the reality for the Nepalese women whose families practice Chaupaddi. In 2005, this tradition was deemed illegal, but to this day the practice still continues, especially in the western part of Nepal where this takes place every month.

Chaupaddi is a social tradition where women are sent to either a menstrual hut or cow shed during their period. Many women have died in the huts due to lack of health care, animal attacks e.g. snake bites, and smoke inhalation. Rape cases have also been reported too.

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Thirteen year old Nepalese villager Sarswati Biswokarma sits inside a ‘chaupadi house’ in the village of Achham in western Nepal. PRAKASH MATHEMA/AFP/GETTY IMAGES

Ruby Raut was born in a remote part of Nepal, and grew up in a valley called Phidim. When she got her period at the age of 12, she was sent away for a week and did not have any of the sanitary options we have in first world countries.

“I had my period during school term and the first thing my mom did was tear her sari, make it into a square and fold it in so that it was a long rectangular pad,” she said.

“I think my first period was the most difficult as I practiced Chaupaddi for the first time. Though it was not a cow shed, I still had to stay at my aunt’s house for 7 days in a room. I missed school, friends, and not allowed to see my family.”

“I was like a prisoner. I felt terrible when I looked out of my window and saw my cousin playing out in the garden and I was not allowed to go and hang out with them. This really still makes me upset.”

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Just like Ruby, all other women in Nepal would simply use a sari rag to soak the blood when menstruating. It’s not hard to imagine how uncomfortable and completely problematic that would be.

“Once we were playing volleyball and one of my friends’ ‘pad’ just dropped, and that was the end of playing sport during your period. Then I decided to be innovative and started pinning my pad to my underwear with pins. It did work for a while but got few stabs when the pin came undone,” she said.

“I had to wear half tights underneath so it didn’t fall out of my pants in 38-degree hot summer. Unbearable. The worst thing was I missed so many school days, and had horrible cramps. I hated the fact I had to wear it and go to school. I had to miss out on sports and everyone would find out you are on your period.”

“I hated the school toilet because they were communal, meaning 5 girls would squat and wee in one toilet (bear in mind we went to private school). The toilet was a huge issue, as I started holding all day so much that I developed a gall bladder problem and had to be taken to hospital.”

The Nepali word for period is ‘nanchune’ and the word actually translates to ‘untouchable’. This is just one of the ways women are described when they start to bleed, and the word ‘dirty’ being another.

“Nepal is a very male dominated nation. Men are superior in every household,” she said.

“In some houses, you don’t eat until all men have eaten their lunch or dinner. (When menstruating) women have to sleep on the floor and men sleep in the bed for 4 days. Nobody talks about hormones or mood swings at all. I learned all about this when I came here (the UK).”

“You are not allowed to cook, or clean anything. When you wash the dishes, it was always rinsed again just so that it was cleaned by someone not menstruating.”

She even had to use her own specific bowl and cup to use when she was ‘dirty’.

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Life was much easier when her family moved to Bhadrapur, Jhapa, however she didn’t use her first disposable pad until she was 18 years old. In saying this, the pad she used was similar to medical cotton, and she had to switch back to sari rags as she didn’t have anywhere to dispose of it.

At 20 years old, Ruby moved to the United Kingdom in search of better opportunities. She studied both Health and Social Care, and Environmental Health through Open University, and became a driven environmental scientist.

“When I was studying, I realised how unsustainably we live here in the UK, over consuming and the waste generated and the plastic. So I had to do something about it.”

Powered with a passion to make a change, Ruby began a brand called WUKA Wear. The company offers reusable menstrual underwear, which allows all women to have a luxurious, hygienic, comfortable and environmentally sustainable period.

The underwear is made of highly absorbent, eco-friendly fabrics that have anti-bacterial properties. They are completely leak free, and can absorb 200x their own weight in water.

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They are machine washable and completely reusable, so you can stop throwing your pads and tampons into landfill!

The underwear is currently live on Kickstarter and will be available on their online shop in February 2018. You can find more information about it here.