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Kerala is abuzz with a ‘No to pads, opt for M-cups’ campaign, as the state government, various agencies and people’s representatives spread awareness about the use of menstrual cups for periods instead of sanitary napkins. The menstrual cup is a reusable and eco-friendly alternative to sanitary napkins. A menstrual cup can be washed and reused for about 5-10 years.
According to users, M-cups reduce irritation and vaginal dryness, have fewer leaks and can be worn for longer than sanitary pads. The reusable containers to collect period fluid are gradually gaining popularity among women in the state.
However the Tamil Nadu state government is not evincing much interest in the promotion of M-Cups while all other South Indian states are focusing on its promotion. The pandemic era of lockdowns, which restricted women’s access to hygienic menstrual products, also created an interest among women in alternative and reusable products.
Thanks to the LDF government in Kerala which ensured Rs 10 Crore as budgetary allocation this year for the propagation of menstrual cups among women, more women are now aware of the benefits of using menstrual cups instead of sanitary pads. Menstrual cups not only eliminate the environmental threat posed by sanitary napkins, the health hazards faced by women due to low-quality napkins and also the financial burden on families, they have also reduced the menstrual blues faced by women. The campaign focuses on these advantages of using an M-cup.
The menstrual cup is a reusable and eco-friendly alternative to sanitary napkins. A menstrual cup can be washed and reused for about 5-10 years. According to users, M-cups reduce irritation and vaginal dryness, have fewer leaks and can be worn for longer than sanitary pads
Kerala started experimenting with the concept in 2019, when a project named ‘Thinkal’ was launched by the Alappuzha municipality. ‘Thinkal’ means moon in Malayalam, as women used to depend on the movement of the moon to calculate their menstrual cycles in the old days. As many as 5,000 cups were distributed among women as part of the project. Later Kumbalangi, a village in Ernakulam district, and Muhamma, another village in Alappuzha district, became the first sanitary-pad-free villages in the state.
The ‘Thinkal’ project, implemented with the help of HLL Lifecare Limited, a central PSU, was a huge success as its acceptance rate was 91.5 percent, with as many as 10,000 women of four wards in Thiruvananthapuram City Corporation receiving M-cups.
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The latest campaign that forced the state government to include a budgetary allocation for M-cups was kickstarted last year by Member of Parliament of Ernakulam constituency Hibi Eden. The initiative started on August 30, 2022 attracted global attention, with the Guinness Book of World Records recognising the campaign for successful distribution of as many as 1,00,001 cups in 24 hours.
The initiative, organised in association with Indian Medical Association (IMA), ensured the involvement of more than 40 doctors as well. M-cups were distributed through 126 venues including malls, metro trains and other public places across Ernakulam constituency. With catchy headlines, the campaign attracted countless women to the idea of replacing sanitary pads with the menstrual cups, as it would save money, avoid menstrual waste and thus save nature, and assure much comfort to the user once accustomed to it.
The success of the campaign and the recognition it received from the state government attracted many three-tier panchayats to the project. The Palakuzha panchayat in Ernakulam has set aside Rs 26,000 for the project, while in Wayanad district the Nenmeni and Meenangadi village panchayats have also launched the ‘M-Cup’ campaign. The campaign in Ernakulam was named the ‘Cup of Hope’, while the campaign in Wayanad has been named ‘The Cup of Life”.
Nenmeni panchayat has invited applications from eligible women for distribution of 3,000 menstrual cups. The services of Kudumbasree, the Health department and Asha Workers also have been roped in to ensure training and assistance to women on how to insert and remove M-cups.
The Karnataka State government also recently started the Mythri Menstrual Cup distribution scheme under which 10,000 adolescent girls between 16 – 18 years age would get free menstrual cups. The project is to be piloted in Dakshina Kannada and Chamaraj Nagar districts. If the project turns successful, the Karnataka government plans to distribute M-cups to as many as 2.23 crore women of the state in the coming years.
However, data reveals only 0.3 percent of women in India use menstrual cups, whereas the market share of menstrual cups is around 6 per cent in developed countries such as the UK and US.
Kerala started experimenting with the concept in 2019, when a project named ‘Thinkal’ was launched by the Alappuzha municipality, where 5,000 M-cups were distributed. Its latest initiative, started on August 30, 2022 attracted global attention, with the Guinness Book of World Records recognising the campaign for successful distribution of as many as 1,00,001 cups in 24 hours
M-cup price and availability
Priced between Rs 200 to Rs 2000, nearly 200 brands of menstrual cups are now available across the market. As menstrual cups can be used for 5-10 years, they are extremely cost-effective compared to sanitary pads which need to be purchased on a recurring basis. HLL Life Care Limited brings out three brands, ‘Thinkal’, the Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) brand, ‘Velvet’, the domestic brand and ‘Cool Cup’, the international brand.
A boon for Nature
What attracts local administrative bodies to propagate the adoption of M-cups is its durability, which would help save nature from menstrual waste of sanitary napkins. Most napkins consist of Super-Absorbent Polymers (SAP), which do not decompose. The breakdown of SAP into micro-plastics also pollutes nature.
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According to Finance Minister of Kerala K N Balagopal, as many as 100 tons of non-biodegradable menstrual waste would be generated by just 5,000 women in five years. In a recent study conducted by the state among the women in the 13-45 age group, it was found that 80 lakh women used sanitary napkins. It takes about 500 to 700 years for modern sanitary pads to decompose. As many as 12.3 billion used sanitary pads go into the trash every year in India, studies say.
Going by the data of the National Family Health Survey (NFHS-5), of the 77.6 percent of Indian women who use hygienic methods of menstrual protection, 64.4 per cent in the 15-24 years age group use sanitary napkins, while 49.6 percent also use cloth, 15 per cent locally-made napkins and 1.7 per cent tampons. Only a minuscule 0.3 percent use menstrual cups.
In Tamil Nadu, Muruganantham Arunachalam invented a sanitary-pad-making machine which produces reusable and biodegradable sanitary pads for the low cost of Rs 3 per pad. In the last 15 years, Muruganantham sold as many as 5,000 units of the pad-making machine and also imparted training to women in pad making. In 2014, Time Magazine enlisted him among the ‘100 Most Influential People’ in the world, and India honoured him with a Padma Shri in 2016. Now his technology serves women in more than 27 countries of the world in making low-cost as well as biodegradable sanitary napkins.
There was also a significant attempt in this matter by Anju Bist, known as the Pad Woman of India, who made low-cost reusable pads from natural substances such as banana fibre. Co-founder and Managing Director of Soukhyam Pads India, which sold more than 5 lakh pads in the last few years in the Indian and overseas markets, Bist’s pads saved 43,750 tons of plastic sanitary waste from being dumped in trash.
Good for Health and Ideal for Comfort
A study published in the prominent international medical journal The Lancet also attests to the benefits of using M-Cups. The study reveals that menstrual cups are a better, safer and more environment-friendly alternative to sanitary pads and tampons.
Going by various health surveys in India, 23% of girls drop out from school at menarche and about 75,000 women die of cervical cancer every year. The mortality, disease burden of women, lost productivity, all of which can be attributed to lack of access to quality sanitary napkins due to financial issues and social taboos. For 70 per cent of women, Premenstrual Syndrome (PMS) starts at least two days before the periods begin, while for the rest it begins many days before. With unbearable back pain, nausea, heavy bleeding, mood swings and abdominal pain and cramps in the leg, among other issues, the trauma of menstrual periods is a nightmare for most of the women, particularly working women.
The Karnataka State government also recently started the Mythri Menstrual Cup distribution scheme under which 10,000 adolescent girls between 16 – 18 years age would get free menstrual cups
Replacing sanitary pads with the menstrual cup would provide relief to many women from ‘Urinary Tract Infections’ (UTI) developed from the use of low-quality pads and skin rashes, and also liberates them from the uneasiness of wearing pads during periods.
Looking back, before the popularity of sanitary pads, women used scraps of cloth and even unsanitary things such as cow dung and even mud to absorb menstrual blood.
What most people don’t know is that the history of reusable menstrual cups dates back to as far back as the 1930s. The early versions were not comfortable like the modern ones. It was worn as a belt and was held up near the cervix with an attached wire. The first bullet shaped M-Cup was manufactured in 1932 as an experiment by a US based midwifery group named McGlasson and Perkins. Later Leona Chalmers, a US actress by profession, patented the first reusable commercial cup in 1937. However, early models were not a success in the market. The first M-Cup with latex rubber namely ‘Keeper’ was manufactured in 1987 in the United States. This proved to be the first commercially viable M-Cup and it is still available today. The first silicone M-Cup named ‘the Moon’ was manufactured in the UK in 2001. Most M-Cups are now manufactured from medical grade silicone because of its durability and hypoallergenic properties.
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