Molly Hayward ’10 empowering women at home and abroad through feminine health
Government major Molly Hayward '10 never imagined that feminine products would become an integral part of her life's work, but a trip to Southeast Asia in her first year of college set her on a unique path.
Hayward traveled to Vietnam and Cambodia on a funded two-week trip as part of an economics class at Connecticut College focused on economic development in the Mekong River Delta. At the time, she planned to major in economics and hoped to enter a career in management or consulting. She thought this would be an ideal experience.
The trip was certainly memorable — but not in the way she expected. “It blew my mind,” said Hayward, “and changed the course of my life and the type of work I feel passionately compelled to do.”
What Hayward witnessed, she said, was “the beauty and spirit of human beings amid intense poverty and psychosocial pain.” The Traveling Research and Immersion Program, led by economics professors Rolf Jensen and Don Peppard, steered her toward social advocacy with a focus on women’s social and economic empowerment.
The experience resulted in Hayward founding Cora, a service that provides safe and healthy organic feminine products to women monthly by mail. Profits from each sale fund a month’s supply of sanitary pads for a girl in India who would otherwise miss school during her menstruation. The organization also educates the girls on reproductive health and the use of these products.
“Menstruation is one of the only experiences all women across the world share,” said Hayward. “In some cultures, it is shamed and it can be oppressive for women who lack access to safe and healthy ways to manage their menstrual cycle. No women should feel disempowered by her womanhood, and I believe that women in our society empathize with a woman’s need for these products.”
Hayward said the initiative benefits both the consumers and the recipients in developing countries. Only 12 percent of women in India have access to and can afford sanitary pads or tampons, and 23 percent of girls drop out of school when they reach puberty because of the embarrassment associated with menstruation. In the United States, women are exposed to chemical toxins and dangerous synthetics in conventional feminine products, which can cause major reproductive issues, and lack convenient access to organic options.
“When researching this issue in developing countries, I discovered little-publicized medical research about what’s in the products that American women use, including toxic pesticides and carcinogens,” said Hayward.
Through Cora, women can order up to 30 products per month for $28. The products selected come in a box that also includes natural health and beauty products. When the box is shipped, a month’s supply of sustainable sanitary pads is then sent to a girl in India.
Hayward said the program was established in India through a partnership with Village Volunteers, a Seattle-based nonprofit that supports rural villages with sustainable solutions for development, growth and education. Village Volunteers is also setting up manufacturing cooperatives in India — owned and operated by women — that Cora will then purchase their feminine products from to support the local economy.
With little promotion so far, Hayward said Cora has seen consistent growth. Cora was launched through a beta web platform earlier this year to a small, contained group of customers in the United States, and the company has used social media and blogging to get the word out.
The growth, Hayward said, has been mostly grassroots. “Women want other women to know about it, so they tell their sisters, daughters and friends. I think the message truly resonates that there are women on the other side of the world who are facing similar issues and a simple purchase can make a huge difference.”
Hayward said Cora plans to launch a full website early next year — along with a full publicity campaign — and is also looking to expand the initiative into Kenya, where she recently spent three weeks conducting research on the issue of menstruation with women and girls of the Maasai tribe. The company, which is based in Philadelphia, Pa., currently has three female employees (including Hayward) and two interns.
She credits her liberal arts education and the experiences she’s been able to have with giving her the freedom to choose her future. “Connecticut College encourages you to take advantage of every opportunity available to you. For me, there were so many life-changing moments, and I feel incredibly fortunate for that.”
As part of the College’s Seminar on Success program, Hayward will be returning to campus on Saturday, Feb. 1, 2014, to take part in a program titled, “How to Succeed in Life After College.” The seminar, which is 1-4 p.m., provides a valuable networking opportunity for current juniors and seniors.