By DERRICK SILIMINA
MENSTRUATION is a natural and valuable monthly occurrence in healthy adolescent girls and pre-menopausal adult women.
This biological phenomenon concerns women and men alike as it is among the key determinants of human reproduction and parenthood.
Menstruation and menstrual practices still face many social, cultural, and religious restrictions which are, a barrier in the path of menstrual hygiene management.
In Zambia, with half the population being female and over 80 percent within reproductive age, menstrual hygiene management is an area that needs much closer attention, due to its ability to have cross-cutting impact on the social and economic wellbeing of citizens.
In most rural areas, girls are not aware about menstruation, so they face many difficulties and challenges at home, schools and workplaces.
Sanitary products are not readily available because they are expensive and being unable to afford them is a source of shame and stress for some women.
As a result of socio-economic challenges, most women resort to use ancient methods such as pieces of cloth, cow dung and cotton wool among others in managing their menstrual cycles. These primeval means are unhealthy, unhygienic and unreliable.
It is for this reason that Chicashana, a Zambian company founded by women to take care of the needs of women, provides solutions to problems such as lack of proper sanitary solutions for menstruation and assist with child-bearing products.
Currently, one of the trending sanitary solutions by Chicashana is a menstrual cup locally known as ‘Chic Cup’ which is set to revolutionise a woman’s way of attending to nature’s call.
In its quest to change the world with one cup at a time, the organisation believes that with proper education and support, young women especially in rural areas can also lead a happier and healthier menstrual cycle, leading to fewer missed school days and fewer missed opportunities.
Chicashana Chief Executive Officer Elizabeth Malama says, unlike a sanitary pad, the menstrual cup is a collector of blood as it sits comfortably in the vaginal walls after insertion as opposed to sucking blood.
“The menstrual cup is made out of medical grid silicone. So, it is graded as a medical gadget as opposed to a sanitary towel. It’s made in a cup shape that is made wholly of medical grid silicone. It means that it doesn’t have any preservatives, chemicals and it does not hold stain, dust or bacteria.”
She notes that the medical gadget is easy to use, easy to clean and its steriliser is hot water. The user can easily reuse it several times upon rinsing it with hot water.
Ms Malama further explains that the menstrual cup is able to hold blood up to 12 hours; meaning that in terms of sustainability, it has the capacity to last the whole day.
“If you wear it in the morning, you only have to be worried about getting it out to clean when you are back in a place where it is easier for you to dispose of the blood and to put it on again.”
Regarding its shelf life and affordability, Ms Malama states that the Chic Cup is economic, with the capacity to last for 10 years.
“When you buy it today, you only have to worry about periods products in 10 years, and that is why we love it for a different avenue of our business like the rural girl and the rural woman. It’s a once off buy and it’s just a fantastic product to use because it’s very comfortable and due to what it’s made of – medical grid silicon.
“When you wear it, it’s like you have implants. It doesn’t make you heavy, it just conforms to your body and like I always say it’s like you are never on your period. You just go on with life like nothing is happening. You can swim, you can go for your gym, you can do pretty much everything like farming and other manual works,” she affirms.
With a focus on African women, Chicashana is also dedicated to the empowerment, improvement and inspiration of the womenfolk.
Ms Malama says what many people may not realise is that menstrual cups also offer significant benefits in health, hygiene, convenience, comfort and reliability.
In other words, menstrual cups have fewer health risks than standard disposable products as there is no known risk like vaginal infections, and they do not contain chemicals or toxins such as dioxin.
Health experts agree that menstrual hygiene is part of basic health hygiene and one of the most fundamental issues concerning reproductive health is for every girlchild to have access to such services for a dignified lifestyle during their menstruation period.
A menstrual cup collects menstrual fluid instead of absorbing it like a tampon. Menstrual cups have been shown to leak less on average and they are very comfortable to wear. Reusable cups have been around since the 1930s and are made of soft, medical silicone, rubber or thermoplastic elastomer.
In terms of its compliance to the Zambian consumer standards, Ms Malama acknowledges that the Chic Cup product is safe as it is locally and internationally approved.
“We have three licenses, one from the Zambia Bureau of Standards (ZABS), one from the Zambia Medicines and Regulatory Authority (ZAMRA) that is at Ministry of Health, and then we have also an international license with SGS, one of the world’s leading inspection, verification, testing and certification companies. All these institutions have tested and approved the product that we sell which is the Chic Cup.”
Just like any other new product on the market which must face challenges in penetrating the market, the Chic Cup equally had its own trials for it to be appreciated by its consumers.
“Our biggest challenge was for ‘her’ to even agree to use it because like I have mentioned, it was not known here at all. So, when we brought it on the market, the biggest challenge was to convince her to say look, this product is good for you, it’s safe for you, try it! But once the women tried it, it just changed their lives.
“We have never had a client or user come back and say ‘I made a mistake’. Every woman that has used it has narrated how the product has changed their lifestyle as well as their day-to-day life.”
Ms Malama describes the product as phenomenal, as it is what every girlchild in school should have, as well as every woman who is active should switch on to.
With just K200 per cup which is equivalent to 10 years of usage, Ms Malama describes the product as cost-effective and second to none.
“The cup can be used for 10 years and if you calculate its K1.50 on your period every month. There is no product currently on the market that is K1 for a woman to use, even for the girls that are in the compounds who buy a pad at K4 which is still more expensive,” She observes.
“Yes, it’s a one-off buy and the cost itself looks very high because it’s a one-off; but if you calculate how long the cup is going to service somebody, you will find that it’s actually the cheapest on the market. You just use water as everyone has access to water and doesn’t require other things to sterilise it but just water.”
Asked how far the company has gone in terms of product awareness, especially in rural areas, Ms Malama points to a huge gap that her firm is yet to tap into despite the current overwhelming response among her clientele.
“We started in December 2018 and our product is relatively new. Our first was to establish ourselves in terms of licensing procedures, product research in the communities and now we are ready to move forward and grow the brand and the business,” she explains.
Originally, the idea of the menstrual cup was mooted in the 1940s in the United States of America; and the first cup was made specifically for women who joined the army for deployment.
Because of the unknown length of time women would spend away from home, there was need for a tool that was long-lasting hence the cup.
The first menstrual cup was made from plastic but unfortunately, it was reactive; making the originators gravitate towards making them out of medical grid silicon around the 1960s.
Dichem Laboratory Services Managing Director Sharon Musonda commends the Chic Cup as a technological advancement of value in the life of a woman.
In line with solid waste management, Ms Musonda adds that the gadget is key to keeping the environment safe and against contamination.
“I like it because in terms of solid waste management, I mean, if you look at our places where we use as dump sites, you will find that approximately 30 percent of the area will be littered with used pads. If you look at the amount of solid waste accumulated by a woman in the whole year, it will amaze you at the amount of kgs but with the cup, there will be no solid waste generated by women.”
As regards to women who burn tampons, cloths and pads, Ms Musonda agrees, noting that “some women actually burn them and that is equally becoming an environmental nuisance. But this is a solution that we are giving to a woman. I mean, we are nurturers and so in terms of also trying to care for our environment as women, it’s an opportunity for a woman to contribute positively to the environment.” – Courtesy of SUMA SYSTEMS.