Menstruation is a universal experience – and some would say burden – for all girls and women. Over time, society has developed a variety of tools for menstrual management. For those in the western world, present day period management is likely a nuisance at worst. For females in the developing world, however, the implications can be serious. A menstrual tampon, pad, or cup can make the difference between staying home or going to school or work, between embarrassing leakage or subtle comfort, and between health and infection.
One woman examines a Ruby Cup for the first time.
Purchasing pads or tampons is reserved for upper-class Ugandans because of their price and accessibility. Most village women use an alternative such as cloth, napkins, newspapers, leaves, any semi-absorbent material, or nothing at all. These materials must be changed often and as there is no privacy of a bathroom or luxury of a trashcan, this causes embarrassment. There is a stigma (not unique to this part of the world) that menstruation is gross and unclean. This causes women to stay home from work and girls to stay home from school while they are menstruating. On average East African schoolgirls miss 4.9 days of school per month, adding up to 20% of school due to menstruation. That is a lot of missed writing, reading, and arithmetic that is so crucial to becoming an influential and respected member of society.
Schoolgirls answer the question, “How does my period make me feel?” during the training.
The newest in menstrual management is the “menstrual cup.” This is a small silicone cup with the ability to hold up to an ounce of liquid. When inserted correctly, it sits about half an inch inside the vagina and creates a vacuum seal to prevent leakage. The size of this cup allows a woman to keep in her cup for up to 12 hours; change it once upon waking and once before bed. It comes in two sizes – one for women who have not given birth, and one for women that have. These cups are easy to clean and are reusable for up to ten years with proper care. It is recommended to boil these cups for 5 minutes between every menstruation for complete disinfection. One cup costs roughly $15 here in Uganda, a price that excludes most village-level women who typically live off less than a dollar a day.
A Ruby Cup trainer demonstrates stretching methods to alleviate menstrual cramp pain.
The brand of menstrual cup available in Eastern Africa is the Ruby Cup. With the help of various individual donors, WMI was able to raise enough money to sponsor a menstrual cup project. This fundraiser allowed us to form a trial team comprised of fifteen lucky girls and women ranging from ages 15 – 40 years who were the lucky recipients of a free Ruby Cup. These trial team members are well known in the community, comfortable speaking about their experiences (positive or negative!), and are good role models. The remaining dollars from this project will be spent on purchasing the cups and offering them at a reduced price to the community as a subsidized product. Additionally, trial team members that become advocates of the product have the opportunity to become agents as well! For every cup they sell, they will receive a small commission.
Ruby Cup trainer gives a thorough demonstration on the female anatomy.
Moreover, we have spoken to the local pharmacist, Sylvia, about stocking this product. Sylvia is about 30 years old and a new mother; she is well respected in the community and is enthusiastic about being a trial member and learning more about the cups. She is an essential part of this project as she has a storefront within the village. This means if any customer has any questions, concerns, etc, she can go to Sylvia for assistance. If Sylvia decides to stock the cups, she will be provided with all of the support and marketing materials she needs to effectively sell the product.
The project kick-off started this past Saturday with the help of two Ruby Cup trainers. Because the product is not immediately intuitive and requires proper care, a training was in order for the trial team and interested members of the community. The training involved a thorough discussion of the female anatomy, cultural stigmas, and proper usage of the Ruby Cup. There were more than 40 attendees who were either there for personal interest or for the benefit of their daughters and family members. We are thrilled with the turnout and product interest. We will be updating you on the status of the project in the next few months, but hope that in the near future girls can go to school twenty percent more often, women can spend more time on income-generating activities, and Sylvia and sales agents can make commissions.
The Buyobo Trial Team! All of these women and girls were the lucky recipients of a free Ruby Cup and will be spokeswomen of the product.