This is a column about menstrual cups. If you are a father, husband, boyfriend, brother, friend, distant relative, co-worker, etc., of someone who menstruates, you may find this information helpful just from an empathy standpoint. Because guys who are understanding of menstruation are generally more cool than guys who just brush it off as “a woman’s thing.”
Remember guys: any female who does what you do, whether it is at work, at the gym, at any sports venue, on the battlefield, or anywhere in general, does it while bleeding at some point during the month. And she still does it. Just remember that.
On to menstrual cups. The Bureau of Women’s Affairs (full disclosure here: I happen to be the director) and Island Girl Power teamed up for Project Sottera, a female empowerment program. One component of Project Sottera is to erase the stigma of menstruation as a secretive or shameful thing. A female usually experiences “sottera” (the Chamorro word for when a young girl first starts her period) between the ages of 10 to 15 years old. And then every month (unless she is pregnant or nursing) until into her 40s, 50s, or for some unlucky females, even into their 60s.
According to the website www.organicup.com, the average female will use 11,000 disposable menstrual products (pads or tampons) in her lifetime. Multiply that by the number of menstruating females on the planet, and you can see the disposable product issue for the environment here.
Not to mention that pads and tampons have become expensive. Countries around the world are now dealing with the very real issue of “period poverty” - a situation in which menstruating females either cannot afford, or in some cases simply do not have access to (think remote places on every continent) menstrual products. In which cases they use rags, leaves, or whatever they can to catch their monthly blood flow. Or they simply just stay home and “free bleed.” A survey by Always conducted in 2017 found that 1 in five girls or women in the U.S. did not have regular access to menstrual products. Five states have already mandated that these products be available to female students in public schools.
On Guam, the Bureau did surveys of GDOE teachers and nurses and Public Health clients and talked with Island Girl Power director Juanita Blaz about the need for these products. When you consider that one third of our population receives some sort of federal assistance for food, and when a package of menstrual pads costs nearly $10, and if you are faced with either spending that $10 on pads for one or two females in the house versus spending it on milk, meat, or other food products for everybody in the house; well, girls, break out the rags, old socks, paper towels, toilet paper, even a baby’s disposable diapers (those are some of the items women in the Public Health survey told us they use).
BWA and IGP want to thank all of the women’s clubs, private businesses and the Guam Legislature for supporting Project Sottera by donating disposable menstrual products to our public middle and high schools to keep girls in school during their period.
On Jan. 18, though, Project Sottera moved into a new phase. Thanks to a donation by Period.org (and to Patty Krise, who did the ask for us), we received 600 menstrual cups to distribute to public schools, Public Health, Sanctuary, Sagan Mami, and other places where females are in need of menstrual products.
By now you may be asking what in the world is a menstrual cup? It is a silicone cup that is inserted into the vagina and creates a seal to catch menstrual blood. Unlike a tampon, which contains chemicals, has to be changed every three to four hours, and cannot be worn overnight, the menstrual cup is free of chemicals, completely safe, and can be worn for up to 12 hours depending on the heaviness of your menstrual flow. The best part is, depending on the brand and how well you care for it, one cup can last for five or more years. Yes, you read correctly – five years in which you don’t have to buy menstrual products (you can use rewashable pads for the light days to be really sustainable).
On Guam, a menstrual cup can cost upwards of $50. But you can get them online for half that price. So, if you order a menstrual cup from Amazon for $26-$28, you save quite a bit of money and help save our environment. Island Girl Power sells them for $35, and they sell reusable pads sewn by a group of women from Chuuk for $10.
Each of the menstruating women in my family got a cup for Christmas. I bought two different brands - the Diva Cup and the Tampax cup. The Ruby Cup will donate a cup to a woman in need for every cup purchased. There’s also Pixi Cup, Organicup, and several other brands out there. The Internet is awash with review videos by young women about these cups, about which design is better, which works better if you are more active, tips on use, etc. A Guam Women’s Chamber of Commerce member who has used a cup for several years had this review for me: “it took a little while to get used to, but I now can't imagine going back to pads and tampons. It's so much less waste and it's great to be able to change it whenever I want. I've gotten to know more about my body and its cycles. I can't recommend it highly enough!”
The Bureau of Women’s Affairs is looking into more donations to get more of these sustainable menstrual cups to girls and women in need on our island. For those who can afford to purchase one, it seems like the way to go. I joked with some friends recently that the menstrual cup seems so cool that it almost makes me wish I still had my period so I could try it out.
Jayne Flores is the director of the Bureau of Women’s Affairs and a long-time journalist. Contact her at email@example.com.