Woman of the Week is Stylist’s weekly celebration of women making a difference to society. Having recently launched her brand WUKA (which stands for Wake Up Kick Ass), environmental scientist Ruby Raut is on a mission to smash period taboos and encourage women to wear her reusable, eco-friendly period pants.
Ruby Raut can still remember the sequence of horrifying events that followed after she bled during her first period.
“I was sent to my aunt’s house for seven days. I was put in a room. I wasn’t allowed to see men. I wasn’t allowed to go out and play. I was given a bowl. I was kind of treated like a prisoner,” Raut explains.
“When I was fed, people passed the food across the floor. Looking back now, I think the whole thing was such a silly thing to do. It doesn’t make sense that the first thing you do to a young girl experiencing her first period is to send her away. It’s not okay. Young girls need more support.”
Raut grew up in Nepal and, like so many other girls before her, was banished while menstruating. Fortunately, unlike other girls, she wasn’t shut away in a menstrual hut.
“I grew up in a modernised society in western Nepal, where women and girls are still sent to cowsheds or menstrual huts,” Raut says. “They’re so small that you have to crouch down inside one for four days. It’s torture.”
Raut wants to end this type of shaming that women face when bleeding, but she also wants women to feel comfortable when menstruating – something which she never felt as a young woman.
“Growing up in Nepal I had to use a rag as a menstrual product. They were very bulky and when I was playing sports the rag used to fall out. It was embarrassing. It’s still to this day one of the main reasons why girls miss school,” Raut says.
Not only do girls have to use rags as menstrual products, but period shaming is so ingrained within societal culture that girls avoiding school while menstruating is actually commonplace.
“I clearly remember that we had this communal toilet for girls where we used to squat. There was a canal in front of it where we would go to the toilet. If you were on your period other girls would tell you to go somewhere else. So you avoid school for a few days, and your education suffers,” explains Raut.
For those of us who are lucky enough to live in a developed country, stocking up on tampons and painkillers is relatively easy for most, as we have so many options available to us. But it’s expensive, with women spending around £18,000 on sanitary products in their lifetime. In the UK, many young girls face the issue of period poverty as they simply cannot afford sanitary products.
But Raut’s ‘period pants’ could be the answer to multiple period woes. Costing £29.99 a pair and available in sizes 6-20, the machine-washable pants can be worn for up to eight hours a day, and hold the equivalent of four tampons worth of menstrual blood.
“I want the underwear to feel comfortable. I want women to feel like they’re not wearing anything while menstruating. I want women to not have to use any disposable products – that’s why I launched WUKA,” Raut says.
Having left Nepal and her family behind at the age of 20, Raut, now 28 years old, studied for a degree in environmental science. After graduating, she joined a non-profit organisation called the Women’s Environmental Network, who were campaigning about the chemicals and plastic used in sanitary products. After speaking to schoolgirls in St. Albans she realised that not only did women not know enough about recyclable options, but there was also a gap in the market. Enter: WUKA period pants.
After launching a Kickstarter campaign in November last year, Raut and her business partner raised the funds they needed for their business within the space of two weeks. And there has been so much demand for the product that they’re struggling to keep stock.
From brides on their wedding day to young girls playing sports at school, Raut has received many positive responses from women.
“I think people are becoming eco-conscious and more aware about plastic pollution than ever before. Everyone is looking for a product that’s less environmentally damaging. And women want the pants in a variety of colours – so we’re working on that,” says Raut.
Currently only available in black, the design is sleek and chic.
“The reason we put a slogan band around the pants, like other well-known fashion brands, is because we want women to show off that they’re on their period.”
Now, WUKA is aiming to get its product sold across the world. In doing so, it will smash taboos and help break down the barriers surrounding periods.
“It’s all about visibility. The more we’re seen talking about periods through the media and in public spaces, the more we will normalise periods,” urges Raut. “The conversation has to continue. Women putting tampons up their sleeves when they go to the bathroom should be a thing of the past.”
More importantly, Raut doesn’t want young women to have the same ‘first period’ experience that she did. By wearing eco-friendly period pants and openly discussing menstruation, period shaming will no longer have a place in 2018.
“We bleed. It should be celebrated rather than punished,” concludes Raut.
Like Raut, let’s continue the conversation – together. One period at a time.
The Woman of the Week series is part of Stylist’s Visible Women campaign, dedicated to raising the profiles of brilliant women past and present. Find out more about the campaign here, and see more Visible Women stories here.
Images: WUKA / Instagram