By: Darby Kendall
Menstruation should never prevent anyone from getting an education, period. Be that as it may, for many young women living in developing countries, the arrival of menses puts a stop to their schooling. Without access to proper feminine hygiene products, girls often resort to using unhealthy and ineffective alternatives, such as newspaper and strips of old cloth, according to a studydone by the African Population and Health Research Center (APHRC). Not only is this practice dangerous, but it forces young women to miss classes while on their period, due to the lack of access to proper sanitary products. Sometimes they even drop out of school altogether.
However, there is a simple solution to this problem: the menstrual cup. Reusable, portable, and relatively inexpensive, menstrual cups are slowly changing the lives of young women around the world. To readers who cannot imagine how menstrual cups work, the product is actually quite approachable. Companies like Ruby Cup and Diva Cup make their cups out of medical grade silicone, and they are bell shaped and flexible. They are placed into the vagina during the wearer’s period, and collect blood until the wearer empties the cup; the maximum amount of time recommended to wear a menstrual cup before emptying is twelve hours – much longer than the amount of time it is safe to wear a tampon. The wearer can then clean the cup and place it back into the vagina, and continue to repeat the process for the remainder of their period. Once Aunt Flow has left town, the cup can be sanitized in boiling water, and is then ready to be used next month.
One company leading this progress is Ruby Cup, a menstrual cup manufacturer based in Spain. Ruby Cup uses the buy one, give one method to provide East Africans with free long-lasting menstrual products. At the time this article was published, they have donated 13,824 cups.
“Ruby Cup was, from the start, a social enterprise with the aim to improve the quality of lives of girls and women around the world,” Amaia Arranz, a manager at the company, says. “The monthly cost of pads is a burden for many families that are already struggling; their disposal in rural and informal urban settlements is a huge issue.”
Along with fixing a major issue for women in impoverished countries, menstrual cups also save the user money.According to the Absorbent Hygiene Products Manufacturers Association, an individual will use approximately 11,000 pads and tampons in their lifetime. This comes with a cost, both environmentally and financially. The cost of buying 350 large boxes of Tampax, the equivalent of 11,000 tampons, adds up to just under $2500. Comparatively, one could buy 3 menstrual cups at $30 each to last through every single period they have, and save a couple thousand dollars on menstrual products.
While some women may consider this a downside, menstrual cups also force their users to become familiar with their bodies and periods. Tampons and pads are marketed as discrete and often come scented, in an attempt to hide and insidiously remove menstrual blood – in contrast, there is no hiding from your own menses while using a cup. Users must become familiar with their body in order to properly insert and remove the cup, and up to a certain point, seeing blood is unavoidable. However, according to the APHRC study, this forced familiarity comes with its own benefits.
“Some of [the participants] mentioned that they understood their bodies better and gained experience using the cup after every subsequent use,” the study says. “Participants reported that the menstrual cup has helped them learn about themselves and explore their womanhood, and in the process many of them have overcome the fears of touching areas in their bodies considered sensitive or private and thus even taboo.”
It’s not just women in developing countries who are growing to appreciate menstrual cups. Arranz says 97% of Ruby Cup users would recommend the product to their friends. Globally, women are beginning to switch to menstrual cups “due to the usage of harmful chemicals and raw materials in sanitary pads and tampons,” according to a Research and Markets report. The cups are starting discussions on social media, with women debating online about their curiosity or disgust with the product.
Regardless if the commenters end up buying menstrual cups or not, the very fact that people now openly deliberate over menstrual products is de-stigmatizing the period. Women’s bodies, the environment , and society overall are benefitting from the increased popularity of the menstrual cup. The product’s market is projected to steadily grow over the next four years, which only makes sense, because as Arranz says, “so many problems can be solved with one small cup.”