Sarah Gabrielsson, together with Bertha Mhepela and a local Tanzanian organization in the rural area of Shirati, conducted a study that could bring significant change to school attendance of girls in Tanzania. The study discovered that menstrual cups could bring comfort and a “life of more freedom” to Tanzanian girls.
Gabrielsson has studied sanitation issues in Tanzania. She described that being a young woman in Tanzania means having your period associated with enormous challenges, myths, and secrecy.
Girls are forbidden from talking about their period, and unwanted blood stains is a taboo. Furthermore, they are not allowed to bring water and pick certain crops. Vaginal infections are common among young women since they occasionally use the same sanitary pads for days.
Gabrielsson further described the situation of young women in Tanzania when they have their menstruation at school. She stated that Tanzanian girls are having difficulties with changing sanitary pads, afraid that it might leak blood.
They are forced to use leaves, mattress stuffing, or cardboard pieces due to unavailability of protection. They suffer in a situation where there’s nowhere to discard their pads and no water to wash their hands.
Due to the difficulties that Tanzanian girls endure at school, they often stay at home, fall behind, and therefore perform worse. As a result, Gabrielsson decided to investigate menstrual products that could bring ease and comfort to the girls.
She compared three types of menstrual products: the menstrual cup, disposable sanitary pads, and washable fabric pads. Each product was tested by three groups of 30 girls between 11 to 18 for three months. The results showed that the menstrual cup was perceived as the most positive. The participants testified the product as a “great sense of freedom.”
Gabrielsson explained that most significant benefit of using menstrual cups is that nobody in the girls’ surroundings needed to know when they were on their period. Hence, girls can attend school without having to be afraid of leaking and getting stains on their clothes.
Furthermore, they no longer have to experience trouble with finding ways to dispose of their sanitary products, which otherwise must often be done with great secrecy. Usage of menstrual cups also favors the environment than disposable pads, as it has a lifespan of several years.
Gabrielsson is planning to expand her research on finding ways on how to improve menstrual hygiene for girls and women in Tanzania. She and her colleagues are already working with various organizations to distribute menstrual cups in Tanzania and on an information campaign targeting young women.
“But first, we must break the silence. It’s all about talking, educating, and discussing the issue with girls, boys, and men, decision-makers, and organizations. Otherwise, we won’t progress”, she concludes.