Can Menstrual Cups End Period Poverty? | Rock & Art

Can Menstrual Cups End Period Poverty?

While period poverty is exacerbated by the cost of living crisis, menstrual cups might offer a new solution.

Approximately 4 billion women live on Earth. Each of them bleeds through their vagina each month. Some of them are fortunate enough to afford a pad or a tampon, but nearly half cannot afford to buy sanitary products each month.

A new survey commissioned by ActionAid UK has found that nearly one in eight women (12 per cent) in Great Britain have struggled to buy menstrual products in the last six months. It is not a problem that can be swept under the rug. Period poverty affects many women even in economically strong countries.

What makes period poverty a problem is that it prevents women from continuing their daily tasks. A report by UNESCO estimates that one in ten girls in Sub-Saharan Africa miss school during their period. This almost equals twenty per cent of a given school year. Many girls even drop out of school altogether once they begin menstruating.

Can Menstrual Cups End Period Poverty? | Rock & Art

In attempts to tackle period poverty, Scotland was the first country to make pads and tampons free. However, this is just a small portion of the solution. In the long run, there seems to be a more sustainable answer: menstrual cups. Menstrual cups could represent the future of periods and offer hope to end period poverty.

Menstrual Cups: A Sustainable Solution for Our Period

Menstrual health educator and menstrual cup trainer Judith Atieno believes that menstrual cups can lessen period poverty. Many families in her community have to decide whether to buy food or menstrual products. “These should not be the options people face,” she said. “Menstrual cups are cost-effective in the long run, reducing the monthly expense of buying pads. However, we also need to educate the community; there is a need for extensive work in addressing attitudes and mentalities towards menstrual cups and menstruation in general.”

menstrual health

As someone who had difficulty obtaining pads as a student, Judith Atieno can relate to women currently facing such issues. She is also a Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) advocate at NairoBits Foundation, which works on creating solutions for inequalities in low-income communities.

Growing up, she attended public school, and most girls benefited from getting pads from school, but this was not consistent. She was not able to afford a whole pack of pads every month, and some shops in the community allowed the purchase of individual pads, proving she was not the only one buying pads one at a time instead of in multipacks.

She said, “There are other stories about menstruation, like the use of cloths and tissue paper instead of pads, especially for women who have to make these hard choices for the sake of their families.”

Advantages of Menstrual Cups

Fortunately, some companies donate cups. Ms Atieno is affiliated with an organisation called Femme International, which provides education and menstrual cups or washable pads. The menstrual cups that Femme International donates come from a company called Ruby Cup. Each time you make a purchase, they donate a Ruby Cup to someone without access to period products.

Ms Atieno added, “Other companies and organisations have started doing this too. Even with that happening, many communities are still unaware of the menstrual cup option.”

For those concerned about the safety of the cups, they are actually less toxic to your body compared to other sanitary products. Menstrual cups are made of vagina-friendly materials such as medical-grade silicone, rubber, latex, or elastomer. Gynaecologist Meltem Antalyalı explained, “It is safe to use the cups. They are made of hypoallergenic, skin-friendly material.”

“While using the cup, you suction it into the vaginal opening and it prevents air from interacting with the material and period blood. This helps prevent toxic shock syndrome cases we see during tampon use.” She continued, “However, you need to sterilise it at the end of your period by boiling it in water for five minutes.”

So, in the long run, menstrual cups are cheap and sustainable, with up to 10 years of use. A package of pads or tampons costs around 1 pound every month, amounting to 36 pounds in three years. Menstrual cups cost around 20 pounds.

In terms of sustainability, instead of producing unrecyclable waste every month, you generate one item of waste every three to ten years. Sanitary pads contain super-absorbent polymers (SAP), which do not decompose. They slowly break down into microplastics, contaminating soil, water, and air. It is calculated that 2 billion menstrual items are flushed down Britain’s toilets yearly. Flushing pads and tampons causes sewer blockages. Many end up in the sea and washed up on beaches.

Additionally, Ms Atieno believes a person learns a lot about their body while learning to use the cups. You can monitor the colour and amount of blood because the cups have measurements in ml. She commented, “You can wear anything, swim, or do a lot of activities during your period once you get comfortable with using them.”

Among the benefits, the biggest drawback of the product is the emptying part. A heavy bleeder might have to empty the cup every few hours in a day. Emptying the cup in public might be uncomfortable because of shared, unhygienic toilet spaces. Another drawback, according to Ms Atieno, is that “First-time purchase of the product is expensive for those who do not receive them as a donation.”

Future Prospects for Menstrual Cups

In the 2000s, menstrual cup brands and purchases increased. Mateja Kalin founded her Slovenian menstrual cup brand LaliCup about 15 years ago. When asked about her inspiration, she said, “I loved swimming as a teenager but dreaded the time when we went to the beach while I was on my period.

Sure, tampons were a possible solution, but I always found them uncomfortable and had to change them every 2-3 hours due to my heavy flow. The other (not viable) option would be to take a week off swimming.”

She continued, “In the back of my mind, there was always this idea that there must be a better solution to period problems. So, in my twenties, I finally discovered menstrual cups, but none of them had the high capacity that I and other women with heavy flow needed, so I decided to create my own cup and, therefore, my own company.”

And what would the future of menstrual cups be? Would they be used in rural areas of the world easily? Ms Kalin comments, “Of course, I would love for the answer to be a resounding yes. However, we do have to take different factors (access to clean water, religious beliefs…) into consideration.” Education and mentality change are needed. However, it gives hope to lessen period poverty and make periods a more comfortable experience for all women in the world.