News from our cup distribution project in Kakamega, Western Kenya

Since February 2022, we have provided 500 menstrual cups and reproductive health education sessions to schools and community groups in Kakamega County, Western Kenya. Kakamega is famous for having the only tropical rainforest in Kenya and a unique biodiverse landscape. However, livelihoods in the region are a challenge with 49% of the county’s population living below the poverty line.

Funding by Dorcus International – a small charity which supports the health of women and girls in East Africa, with a particular focus on menstrual health – and local support from the Community Health Initiative Group (CHIG) has allowed the distribution of menstrual cups and corresponding training to communities in this area.

What is the impact?

Monitoring and Evaluation is ongoing, but results suggest over 85% those who received cups are still using them after 3 months.

We are already seeing the impact the cups are having on the lives of the recipients:

  • Girls do not miss school because of the fear of leaking or smelling
  • Women can walk longer distances or ride a motorbike while on their periods now, meaning they can go to the market and take part in more activities outside the home
  • Women are able to save the money they spent on pads for other household finances, including school fees
  • Women and girls no longer have rashes and infections from using cheap pads and rags
  • Girls have more freedom, they are comfortable running and jumping on their periods now that they have cups.

In order for this and projects like it to succeed it is crucial that the local team have the right connections with the communities they are working with and the local Ministry of Health. Getting people familiar with cups and conversations around periods also paves the way for future cup distribution. 

What happened during the project?

In February 2022, during initial training, the CHIG learned about the multiple benefits of using cups and we discussed the role they could play in their communities. The team were trained on how to use cups – such as how to fold them, insert them, remove them safely, and clean them. The CHIG were able to feel and try the cups for themselves to ensure they were comfortable with them. After having tried the cups for themselves, the CHIG were enthusiastic to start training within the communities. The Menstrual Cup Coalition and the CHIG worked together to create a data management system to track who has received cups and training, along with processes for capturing qualitative case studies of experiences.

Ambitions for the project at the initial stages were around the freedom of movement, economic savings and health awareness that menstrual cups might offer. For example, Hellen, a local primary school teacher was quick to grasp the role the training could have on helping girls learn about their reproductive health while Mama Jane, a Church group leader hoped that ‘This initiative will benefit my daughters, granddaughters and our community by increasing their freedom during periods’.

In April 2022 the CHIG started training women and community groups. The trainings included basic reproductive health education as well as an introduction to Menstrual Cups. The training participants were very intrigued with the cups and particularly concerned about the material they are made from and if they are safe. They had many questions, including:

  • Can they leak?
  • Can they fill all the way up?
  • Can they be shared?
  • Can they get stuck?
  • Can they break a girls’ virginity?
  • Can you sleep with them in?
  • Can they be washed with soap?
  • Can they cause cancer?

Question and answer sessions prompted discussion around sexual and reproductive health, including family planning and personal hygiene. Once the women grasped the usability of the cups their first reactions were excitement at no longer having to think of the expense of buying pads.

Those who attended the training were given a cup and two to three months to try it before smaller follow up sessions were held, in which people could share experiences and feedback. This process enabled the CHIG to monitor uptake of cups and the impact they have on women’s lives.

Eunice, a cup recipient shares:

“I was sceptical at first but after the first day I became very comfortable. I even managed to go to the market using a boda boda (motorbike), and walked a long distance which I usually avoid when on my period.”

Why cups?

Menstrual cups help individuals realise their sexual and reproductive, health and rights, reduce plastic waste, increase freedom of movement, save money, and empower individuals.

The goal of this project in Kakamega is not only to ensure individuals in the area have the option of using menstrual cups, but to also provide a replicable and scalable model for how menstrual cups can be introduced, and to show the positive impacts they can have.

Alethea Osborne

Written by Alethea Osborne

Alethea has spent much of the last decade advocating, researching, and implementing programmes to improve menstrual health globally. She runs international sexual and reproductive health and women’s rights programmes focused on ensuring women and civil society are central to sustainable solutions.

Alethea Osborne