From cups to cow dung: how people around the world manage periods
Having periods is a bodily function that’s just as basic as sleeping, and something that half the world’s population experience, but they are still a big mystery for so many people. Luckily, the conversation is getting louder as period poverty is brought to light more in the UK’s press and positive steps are being taken to address the stigmas that millions of people face in different countries. Demand for sustainability is also on the rise as climate change and the coronavirus motivate people to seek better solutions than using conventional period products that are often full of plastic and chemicals.
But there’s still so much more we can do.
By better educating ourselves and becoming more aware of how menstruation affects people in different cultures, we can take a step in the right direction. So let us take you for a little trip around the world to find out how six different women manage their periods…
Sangita, 32, from Nepal shows us her handmade reusable sanitary pad.
She tells us that where she lives, the water systems can’t cope with disposable period products, often flowing back into the main systems and polluting the land. Her handmade pads are a much better alternative - more cost-effective and better for the environment. Sangita received training on menstrual hygiene and guidance on how to make her own pads as part of a community project supported by WaterAid. These new skills and knowledge have made her feel less ashamed of menstruation and more confident about how to care for herself during her period.
“I wash cotton pads well with soap and dry them properly in the sun without any fear. Since the homemade pads can be reused, it saves you money. We can use clean cotton cloth available at home. The only thing we have to be careful of is that the cotton cloth which is used should be washed properly with soap and dried in direct sunlight so that it is germ-free.”
Dried cow patties
Nowana, 45, from Zambia fills a pouch with powdered cow patties that she uses during her period.
She collects the cow dung from surrounding fields and uses a pestle and mortar to grind it down to a fine powder, before stuffing it into a pouch which she uses to absorb the blood. It’s a method that has been passed through generations, shown to Nowana by her grandmother and now passed down to her own daughters. Although it’s cheap and efficient, it’s an extra chore added to her daily workload and Nowana would prefer to use pads - an expense her family can’t afford.
“The dry cow patties do not have a smell and no one would notice that there is something I am putting on of this sort. This is why we have been able to use this method for a long time. I would prefer pads to cow patties if I had a choice. They are easy and already made, they are disposable and don’t require a lengthy process like the one I go through when using cow patties.”
Doris, 19, lives in Zambia and holds lint cotton that she picks from cotton fields around her home to help manage her periods.
The cotton can attract insects and is sometimes itchy and causes irritation to her skin, but Doris can’t afford pads. Sometimes, if the crop hasn’t had much rain the cotton can be hard to find, so Doris will use cloth from bits of old clothing called ‘chitenge’ instead.
“It is not very comfortable to use chitenge materials for managing the period. It gets soaked very easily and heats up when I’m walking. During my period, I don’t feel confident enough. Mostly I hang around home and engage in less activity. I come to school sometimes and other times I just stay home if my period pains are too much. The materials I use during my period are not 100% safe - that’s why I need to be careful all the time."
Lepera Joyce, 23, from Uganda uses a traditional goatskin skirt when she’ is on her period.
The skirt has been Lepera Joyce’s way of managing the blood flow since she started her period at 14. It’s made from the local livestock in the village and has a thick folded bottom called an ‘Abwo’ which Lepra Joyce sits over when she is bleeding. She cleans it afterwards with ghee (a type of oil made from cows milk). Although she’s used pads in the past, Lepra Joyce prefers her skirt and has even made her four year old daughter one so she can get used to wearing it.
“I use this goatskin skirt because it’s always available; it’s our traditional sanitary pad. I don’t pay anyone to use the skin, other pads are expensive, even if my skirt gets old, I make another one since we have many goats. My grandmother taught me how to make and use the goatskin skirt during menstruation.”
Saba, 18, from Pakistan has always used cotton cloth from old clothes during her periods as she can’t afford pads.
She tells us she finds the cloth uncomfortable and that it’s difficult to wear at school and as she works.
“I find the use of cloth difficult and it makes me uncomfortable. I can’t use it properly and I feel irritated. I keep worrying because I do not want others to know when I am menstruating.”
Claire, 40, from Manchester, uses a combination of a menstrual cup, tampons and pads during her period.
Although her aim is to reduce waste, she finds the cup a little tricky to manage when she’s out and about. Like Fempowered products, Claire only uses organic cotton tampons and pads which are biodegradable and don’t have any chemicals or plastic in them.
“My main consideration is that these products are better for the environment. I made a lifestyle choice to reduce waste. Before becoming more environmentally conscious I used regular supermarket brands. With the Mooncup, a side benefit is that it saves me having to buy much of the normal products, as the cup is reusable. I like using it because I can leave it in longer than a tampon - it’s safer for the body.”
A lot of us are lucky enough to have options on how to manage our periods. In addition, the UK government has now recognised period poverty as a serious issue and are providing free period products in secondary schools. But there are so many governments around the world that ignore the fact that women and girls are having to manage their periods in unsafe situations with poor hygiene. They’re left with no choice.
It’s our mission to ensure everybody can have safe and dignified periods and be free from limitations. Together, we can make this happen - join us by subscribing to Fempowered today.