W hen Kiran Gandhi, a Los Angeles-based musician, decided to run during the London Marathon with her menses flowing freely, her actions drew criticism and she was labelled “disgusting”, “unladylike” and “unsanitary”.
This is because menstruation is still a huge stigma in many communities around the world because the biological process has long been associated with dirt and shame. In Kenya stigma attached to periods is rife.
It is well-documented that girls and women in Kenya face problems with poor sanitation, lack of resources and lack of education about menstruation and sanitary products. “About 50 per cent of girls who start their menses have parents who supply them with sanitary pads.
The rest are left to cope with old cloths and those who cannot find such solutions opt for plan B: having sex for pads,” says Sanna Micklin, Lune Group Oy Ltd Development Project Coordinator, a company that has been giving out menstrual cups in Kibera for free.
They distribute the cups in partnership with The Cup Foundation. The cups can last for 12 hours and can hold twice the amount as a super tampon or sanitary pad and they are carefully inserted just the way tampons are inserted.
Once they are full, they are removed, emptied, rinsed and stored. Sanna says since menstruation is still overwhelmingly considered secret women’s business, young girls are taught from a young age that they have to manage it privately and discreetly.
This is why they have introduced menstrual cups to tackle the stigma associated with periods. “We want to educate and empower. Our mission is to have honest and inspiring conversations about menstruation so that we can motivate period positivity and change the world,” she says.
Apart from providing the cups for free to students the group is also training the locals about menstrual hygiene management, reproductive health, sex drug abuse, human rights and gender roles. “Since 2015 when we started distributing menstrual cups in Kenya, we have worked with 6,000 girls.
School attendance notably reduces once a girl reaches menstruating age,” says Sanna. According to Halima, a single mother from Kibera, using thecup is convenient and hygienic for her since she doesn’t have to wash away the blood from sanitary towels as per her religion.
However, Dr Chrispin Mwangi, a fertility specialist, says even though it is easy to maintain the cup, it can lead to viginal infection if not washed and stored properly. For example, if the cup is washed with perfumed soap it messes the PH level of the private parts, thus leading to unpleasant infections.
“You only need flowing or warm water to rinse this cup after use. And if it comes a time when you have to rinse it in a public restroom just carry a water bottle so that you can give your cup a rinse and wipe it dry with toilet paper,” he says.
Once you stop using it you need to sanitise it and dry it. Since the cups come with their packaging bag made of breathable material you can store the cups there and if you have lost your bag you can use a cotton cloth or any breathable material to store it.
This is because the cup needs to be stored in an airy place. “This is one of the products if well used, can end menses stigma because they are comfortable a. But we need to create awareness about these products which have not been well received,” says Dr Mwangi.