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Can a tiny cup lift women out of period poverty?

  • Published at 10:23 am January 20th, 2021
The literacy rate in Bangladesh
The literacy rate in Bangladesh has increased to 73.9% from 58.6% when the Awami League came to power in 2014 Mahmud Hossain Opu/Dhaka Tribune

Menstrual cups can last up to a decade and eliminate the need for any single use menstrual product

Menstrual products are one of the most highly taxed products around the world. Bangladesh is no different.  There have been calls around the world to remove the so called “period tax” because it unfairly financially burdens women. 

The United Kingdom just removed their “period tax” last year and it went into effect on January 1. Bangladesh too removed the tax after protests like “No VAT on Pad” erupted over a proposed 40% value-added tax (VAT) and supplementary duties on imported raw materials of sanitary napkins in the budget for 2019-2020. 

Even then, not everyone can afford these essential products which leads to period poverty. They even end up using alternatives like unhygienic clothes.

Menstrual cups can be a sustainable solution to this problem as it requires a one time expense only.

These can be used up to a decade and you do not need to buy any other menstrual wear during that time which can help fight period poverty.

Medical grade silicone made menstrual cups is one menstrual wear that is eco-friendly, cost-effective, reusable, durable, and easy to clean.

Unaffordability and unavailability of hygienic menstrual wear are causing adolescent girls to miss school every month.

Old clothes seem to be a viable option for many as it is reusable and cost-effective. However, cleaning and drying these clothes unhygienically could lead to urinary infection and reproductive tract infection.

As per National Hygiene Survey 2018, the majority of adolescent girls (50%) and women (64%) used old cloth for menstrual hygiene management. Use of disposable pads was more likely among adolescents (43%) compared to women (29%).

The survey was published by Bangladesh Bureau of Statistics with financial and technical assistance of WaterAid Bangladesh and UNICEF Bangladesh. 

A recent study published in the Lancet Journal of Public Health titled “Menstrual cup use, leakage, acceptability, safety, and availability: a systematic review and meta-analysis” in August 2019, says that menstrual cups are a safe option for menstruation management. 

How to use

It just needs to be sterilized in boiling water before and after every menstrual cycle.

A user needs to insert the cup into her vagina which catches and holds the period blood.

The cup needs to be emptied when it is full and then it should be rinsed with clean water during the cycle. The cup needs to be sterilized only before and after every cycle.

Many schools do not have enough facilities like toilets at the school compound where students can change sanitary pads. Period cups can stay in for up to 12 hours, and therefore, they would not need to change while they are in school.

Benefits of the cups

Nahid Dipa, a menstrual hygiene activist and cofounder of social innovation lab Mumble, started an online store of menstrual cups after she learned that women in hilly areas use old scraps of clothes and put sand in between the layers to soak up their menstrual blood. 

“It took me two or three months to get comfortable with the reusable cup. After using the medical grade silicone cup for a few months, I decided to educate more people about its advantages,” she told Dhaka Tribune.

“Women have to use sanitary napkins around five days a month. It could cost them around Tk3,000 to Tk7,200 per year. However, a period cup can last upto 10 years,” said Dipa, adding that she sees it as an investment since a silicon cup user does not need to buy any other single use menstrual wear.

She also told Dhaka Tribune that this small investment will help women save their money, protect their reproductive health, and the added bonus is this cup does not need to be disposed of in a few years which makes it eco-friendly.

Public health specialist Shamima Parveen, who is now working as a gender manager in Pathfinder Bangladesh, said the period cups are made of medical grade silicone, therefore, it does not really have any adverse effect on women’s reproductive organs.

“Many women dry [reusable clothes] these in a dark and damp place because of the taboo centring menstrual wear. Urine infection and reproductive tract infection are very common in women who use unhygienic old clothes to manage their period,” she said.

Women in the dark

The National Hygiene survey 2018 found that across all three seasons, dry, winter and rainy, the majority of adolescent girls and women dried menstrual cloths in hiding (55% to 67%). A total of 40% adolescent and 44% of women store the washed and dried clothes in hiding.

Dipa gets a common question from a lot of interested buyers.

“They get indecisive about switching to cups as they are worried about losing their ‘virginity’ to the period cup,” Dipa told Dhaka Tribune.

“The real challenge to make this product popular is to break the cultural taboo about inserting menstrual wear into their vagina. Women in this part of the world are using old clothes, cotton pads, and sanitary napkins for years to manage their period,” Shamima told the correspondent.

If the government takes initiative to distribute these cups for free and educate people about this sustainable period cup, it could bring about a massive change for women who struggle every month to manage their period, she said.

A number of online stores have started selling medically graded silicone period cups, whose prices range from Tk1,500 to Tk3,000.

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