Could the menstrual cup work for Indian Women?

Update:  Shecup now supplies the menstrual cup in India

Could the menstrual cup work for Indian Women?

Using the cup has the potential to make the days of a woman’s menstrual cycle feel “just like any other day” of the month. Considering that a normal period usually lasts 3-7 days, this represents 10 – 25% of a woman’s life during the years that she is menstruating. The average woman will menstruate for 35-45 years, minus about 2-3 years for each baby she carries to term for 9 months and exclusively breastfeeds for at least 6 months. This is easily 30 years or 360 months in which she must be aware of and manage her menstrual flow.

Traditionally women have torn or cut up old clothes and folded the cloth into layers that absorb the blood that flows during the period. Those who have enough water can wash and reuse these; those without adequate water supply may risk reusing improperly washed cloths, possibly resulting in health problems. While the method is economical and relatively ecofriendly, the folded layers of cloth may prove bulky and difficult to change while out of the home. Given water and soap for washing, cloth pads cost little or nothing, and so one can change them as often as desired for maximum comfort. Ready-made cloth menstrual pads available in North America, Europe and China offer women the comfort of cloth in contoured, stitched pads that are neat, trim and easy to change and wash. Women can easily use these even when traveling or going out to college, office, etc.

In India, the only convenient option for women on the go has been disposable sanitary napkins. All varieties on the market are made by multinational companies. Therefore there is a sharp contrast between the old fashioned local method and the modern western method. There are no pre-stitched cloth menstrual pads that allow women comfort and convenience at low cost. In order to be as comfortable with a disposable pad as one could be with cloth, one would have to change the pads at least every two hours, perhaps more during heavy flow or hot and humid weather. For an average period of 5 days, this would require a minimum of 50 pads, running to Rs. 100-150 per month. For many women this is unaffordable and as a result they will change pads less often so as to use fewer pads. Therefore a commercial product that is marketed as offering superior benefits is actually used in a way that works more poorly than the home-made solution, much the same way low income parents may purchase expensive baby foods and then dilute them.

While disposable pads do not require washing, they do require sanitary disposal. This is also difficult to find in most places and the sight of used pads in the open is not uncommon. Even when cost is no concern, a woman may refrain from changing a pad as soon as she wishes, simply for want of a place to dispose the used pad. Therefore she continues wearing it until she can identify a sanitary place to change it. This is not only uncomfortable but can also exacerbate the cramps that affect many menstruating women.

Because of these worries and discomforts, most women consider the days of their period somewhat inconvenient if not downright painful. Apart from discrimination and superstitions regarding menstruation that many women, both urban and rural continue to face, women themselves are not able to treat these days exactly like all others. While planning any special event, outing, or important work, a woman will hope or try to ensure that it does not happen during her period. Since periods are not always regular, one leaves a margin of error, meaning even more days are ruled out. These are just a few of the myriad ways the monthly cycle affects women’s lives.

An alternative method of collecting and disposing of menstrual flow is the menstrual cup. A small, flexible cup made of rubber or silicone, inserted in a woman’s vaginal opening to catch the blood as it flows from the cervix, was developed in the 1940s. Women who use it have reported the following advantages:

milder cramps, or none, even for those who previously had
reduced duration of the period
no smell, stain
no bulk – feels like nothing
no waste
easy to wash
can forget that you are even having your period

This option is currently not available in India. If available, it could contribute to a woman’s sense of freedom and help her overcome inhibitions in participating in a variety of activities that may require her to leave the house for a few hours or longer during her period. Even today, urban as well as rural women are subject to segregation and untouchability during menstruation. The fact of menstruation is used to justify a range of other restrictions that societies impose upon women as well. The cup could also help women combat the sense of shame and impurity and challenge sexism in other contexts as well.

For further background see also “Greeting Aunt Flo” in Manushi No 150,

Update:  Shecup now supplies the menstrual cup in India