Some days are harder than others and if you are a woman, these days come must around every month. Beyond the cramps – stomach and back pain, emotional and mental turmoil, many girls are forced to miss 3-5 days of school because they lack adequate menstrual protection materials. Some use pieces of old clothes and toilet paper but a majority stay home and wait out the bleeding. The conversation around menstruation has taken centre stage in Uganda and East Africa, rightfully so, as research has shown that menstruation widens the gender gap with girls missing school, and often failing to catch up. Despite interventions to ensure every girl has a pad; campaigns, donations, pleas to make pads free and the uptake of reusable pads, the problem still looms. Could menstrual cups fill the void and provide the solution to keeping more girls in school?
A menstrual cup is a small, flexible bell-shaped device that catches and collects menstrual fluid for up to 12 hours, depending on the flow. It is made from medical grade silicone or rubber and collects three times more fluid than a pad. Whereas some are disposable, most are reusable and can be used for up to 10 years. They are environmentally friendly and cost-effective ranging from UGX 50,000 to 100,000 depending on the brand. If accompanied by exceptional hygiene, they could be the solution to the menstrual management question, especially for school going girls in rural Uganda.
How are they used?
Before the start of your period, fold the cup tightly and insert it, the same way you would a tampon or diaphragm. It automatically flares up once it has entered the vaginal canal and begins trapping all the blood. To take it out, you pull the stem, pour the blood out and wash it in warm soapy water. If inserted correctly, you shouldn’t feel it, you can test this by running, jumping or even doing squats. Among its benefits is the assurance that your clothes will not be bloodstained by the end of the day.
From where I stand, the menstrual cup is a cheaper and more sustainable way to keep girls in school. In Uganda, uptake of menstrual cups is still very low, mainly because there is little information on them and they are not readily available in shops pharmacies and supermarkets. Pads are the more popular option but with the recent outrage against the distribution of poor quality pads in Africa, through the hashtag #MyAlwaysExperience, menstrual cups wouldn’t be such a bad idea for every woman and girl.
The Ministry of Education informed Parliament’s Education Committee that they have no funding or budget to provide sanitary pads for school girls, however, giving each of the 30% of girls who miss school for 3 – 5 days every month a menstrual cup would cost UGX 40,000,000, much lower than the UGX 197,856,000 the parliament has agreed to spend on buying MPs data bundles and OTT tax annually.