In Malawi, over 70 per cent of girls regularly miss one week of school per month, cannot attend trainings or are disfavoured in their business activities. With respect to Malawian socio-cultural life, menstruation is linked to shame, stigmatisation, and contempt from men and boys. It is key to embed Menstrual Health and -hygiene (MHH) as a cross-cutting topic in agriculture and rural development projects. A pilot cooperation between the Malawian NGO UFULU and the GIZ Global Project ‘Employment in Rural Areas with Focus on Youth’ (Country package Malawi called: ‘EYA! Empowering Youth in Agribusiness’) has recently started to sensitize and disseminate Menstrual Cups to women in rural Malawi. A Menstrual Cup is a feminine hygiene product that offers safe protection for up to 12 hours. It is easy to clean and store, reusable for 5-10 years, lower in longterm costs as well as generating less solid waste than disposable products.
‘We are working on employment promotion in the agri-food sector of rural areas and support youth and women on being viable agripreneurs for instance in mushroom production, chicken farming and chili drying. Our core business is capacity building for youth in rural areas. We see that women’s readiness to participate in trainings and project activities, like trainings and coaching, is more likely with sufficient access to sanitary products. A joint action is urgently needed to further remove such barriers to economic opportunities for women, also in favour of an inclusive economic development of the agricultural sector in Malawi’, says Achim Kress, Project Manager of the Project ‘EYA! Empowering Youth in Agribusiness’.
Women facing unequal preconditions in finding a job, being an entrepreneur as well as economic self-realisation. Apart from poor employment opportunities, around 80 per cent of women have trouble accessing safe sanitary products due to financial restraints. The consequences are immense: Many rural women usually use rags which often lead to vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis or permanent nappy rash.
Therefore, investing in menstrual health is also an investment in women’s empowerment and thus into their education, economic development and participation, and their freedom to make own choices. Addressing this topic also means to potentially unlock better outcomes of the initial project activities, such as agribusiness trainings, incubation programmes and MSME development, targeting women.
Ufulu means freedom in Chichewa, a language widely spoken in Malawi. Aiming at women’s freedom, the Malawian partner NGO introduces the project’s target group to the topic of MHH in a trusted set-up for a price of approximtely eleven euros per trained and cup-equipped women. UFULU supports a network of so called ‘Cup Ladies’ which inform and teach about proper handling of Menstrual Cups and advice the participating women in the aftermath. In separated groups, also men learn how to be supportive in their communities, so that the topic is not perceived as taboo anymore. Exchange and awareness may lead to more tolerance and acceptance of menstruation and reduce prejudices against women – menstruation as everybody’s business.
'We will no longer worry about spending on sanitary products and destroying old rags for the next years', states one of the female participants. UFULU confirms that many women have already shown great interest and appreciation for being part of this pilot initiative.
‘We tried to sensitize our partners on the topic of MHH to bring them on board for the Menstrual Cup activities. Their initial feedback is very positive, and their involvement is crucial to further increase the outreach to even more women in the future’, says Achim Kress. The GIZ project’s commitment until Menstrual Hygiene Day in May 2023 is to reach 900 women with the training on MHH and distribution of Menstrual Cups in rural Malawi. Awareness raising in combination with trainings is only one of many approaches to address the topic of MHH in the framework of project implementation. It has high potential to be replicated by other projects and in different country context. The rising engagement is an important step towards women's empowerment, gender equality, education, and social and economic development, and contributes towards a world where no one is disadvantaged because of their menstruation.
(UFULU/Deutsche Gesellschaft für Internationale Zusammenarbeit (GIZ))
This article first appeared at weltohnehunger.org and is part of a media cooperation between Rural 21 and One World - No Hunger.