The first Menstrual Cup Summit of its kind was in Nairobi on the 23th– 25th January 2018 arranged by The Cup Foundation, and supported by the Church of Sweden. Around 25 people from different organisations, institutions and companies currently working with or considering to work with menstrual cups participated. Including representatives from Femme International, The Cup Effect, Liverpool School of Tropical Medicine, OXFAM, Golden Girls Foundation, UNHCR, Save the Children, World Menstrual Network, Lunette, The Lutheran World Foundation, VSO, geographically covering Kenya, Tanzania, Uganda, Malawi and South Sudan.
In many parts of East Africa, female virginity, referring to an intact hymen, is treasured until the girl gets married. Therefore, one of the questions that pop into peoples’ mind when they hear about a menstrual cup for the first time, is whether virgins can use it. A gynaecologist took the Cup Summit participants through a session on different types of hymens, how hymens and virginity relate, and how this can be addressed in relation to menstrual cup use by the organisations working with menstrual cups.
Other topics discussed included what can be done to make girls and women overcome their initial fear of trying out the menstrual cup, and as one participant explained her initial fear; “when you see the cup, it looks like a rose with thorns. But when you pick up the cup, the thorns disappear”. The importance of knowing your body, and having ownership of your own body was highlighted when it comes to taking a decision on whether to start using a menstrual cup. And in order to make girls and women use the cup, they need to have access to and information about it, because “how can I choose something I don’t know”.
Economic considerations related to menstrual cups were also on the agenda, as it is a widespread problem among schoolgirls in East Africa that “you pay with your vagina” for monthly menstrual products, which a menstrual cup that last for 10 years has the potential to help relieve.
The Cup Summit brought together different people from different backgrounds, all with menstrual cups as shared interest in one way or the other. It is not often you get to have in-depth discussions about specifics related to menstrual cups with experts in both research, Monitoring & Evaluation and cup project implementation all together, and it was a great learning experience hearing each others’ inputs and feedback. It was awesome to move beyond explaining and convincing people about the benefits of the cup, and be in an environment where everyone has accepted the cup, and want to discuss issues related to the cup at the next level.
The outcome of the Cup Summit that I am most happy about, is the prospects of the Cup Coalition – a coalition of organisations, institutions and other relevant stakeholders working with menstrual cups started in East Africa. The aim of the Coalition is shared data across the countries and projects, and a strong menstrual cup front with awesome data and evidence on the benefits of the cup from all over East Africa, used for advocacy, fundraising and general awareness creation in East Africa and beyond!
Anna works as a Project Manager for WoMena Uganda, where she has lived and worked for the last year. She holds an MSc in Geography and Geoinformatics, and has experience in project management, data collection, mapping, monitoring and evaluation in the area of women’s empowerment and sustainability in complex developing settings, including post-conflict and disaster contexts.