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Cup of Life: A symbol of hope & how menstrual cup helps women & our society

Cup of Life: A symbol of hope & how menstrual cup helps women & our society

“It feels like Heaven” my friend explained in four words when I asked her about her experience using a menstrual cup. She also explained how comfortable she had been using it for the past two years and how the period days were like any other regular day as she could do any activities without worrying about leakage and cleanliness. I searched online for more information on menstrual cups and came across “Cup of Life” an initiative of Ernakulam Hibi Eden MP, and various activities. Interestingly I went behind the same & got to learn the story & idea behind this initiative.

 

A politician who is a different thinker: Hibi Eden MP

 

Unlike the usual projects or initiatives started by politicians in Kerala, Hibi Eden MP took a step toward change when he became an MLA in 2011. “I wanted to do something different & beneficial for society and women empowerment was suggested. This topic is discussed by a lot of organizations & initiatives are implemented in support of the same, yet, a lot of basic things are missed & these campaigns have not reached a progressive measure.” Hibi Eden MP said that to make this change, he helped in setting up sanitary napkin vending machines & incinerators in 25 government-aided schools as part of his “breaking barriers” campaign. The motive behind such a campaign was to inform girls in those schools that they would get a pad for 1 Rupee and they could dispose of the used pads without clogging the toilets using the incinerator. Actor Revathi, DGP R Sreelekha, Sindhu Sooryakumar from Asianet News & Deputy Mayor of Cochin at the time, Bhadra Satish supported this initiative. The same initiative expanded to 125 schools when Hibi Eden became MP of Ernakulam even though it was not an aggressive campaign due to covid issues. 

 

 

“Later on, when we were discussing these issues with Actress Parvathy, she suggested that a menstrual cup is a good option and why not promote the same. A lot of people had tried promoting menstrual cups for their usage but did not become successful. So, what we did was, instead of promoting the menstrual cup as it is, we promoted issues associated with menstruation – cramps, mood swings, pain. I feel like a lot of divorces also happen due to a lack of awareness in men on what a woman goes through every month. As a result of this idea, we are distributing 1 lakh menstrual cups on 31st August 2022”, said Hibi Eden MP.

 

Before this, Hibi’s team had contributed an Ambulance & an open gym to the primary health centre in the panchayat of Kumbalangi as part of “Saansad Adarsh Gram Yojana”. At that time, they partnered with Indian Oil Corporation (CSR partner) and distributed 4000 menstrual cups to women in Kumbalangi. An intensive campaign was conducted in association with doctors from HLL Lifecare Limited, 17 ward panchayat members & Kudumbashree members. As a result of which, the Governor of Kerala, Mr. Arif Muhammed Khan declared Kumbalangi the first sanitary napkin-free village in India.

 

 

Meanwhile, IMA Cochin at the same world with the same initiative

 

Around 2 years back, the UN had chosen some of the medical practices conducted by IMA Cochin as the best practices in the world. As a result of which they were invited to an online portal meeting and the UN introduced the menstrual cup & its benefits to IMA Cochin as part of their sustainable development goals. “Even though I am a doctor, we never understood the reality of period pains & what a woman went through during these days. Yes, we talked about period & was well aware of the anatomy & the physical changes. We never knew the reality of it & after learning how menstrual cups can make things better or at least help in decreasing it, we decided to conduct campaigns and awareness. It is not the answer to everything, but the answer to something.” Dr. Akhil Manuel, National Health Mission Officer & IMA Cochin’s joint secretary stated. 

 

 

Initially, IMA Cochin was focused on environmental factors, but the more they learnt about menstrual cups, they realized it was an answer to several problems like pad rashes, and leakages that reduced the confidence of women. Menstrual cups played a vital role in decreasing these bad effects. Hence they started an initiative 2 years ago to promote menstrual cups and partnered with National Health Mission, Green Cochin Mission, Tata Institute of Social Sciences Mumbai, and several NGOs to strengthen this initiative scientifically. Cochin Obstetrics & Gynecology welcomed this initiative by supporting it & by giving awareness sessions in colleges & public. “In colleges, the conversion rates were 80% as we found the students to be proactive & accepting this change. From the general public, the conversion rates were lower as most of the women are used to sanitary pads & their side effects and were not ready to start a new method.” Dr. Akhil said.

 

When both forces joined hands

 

Hibi Eden MP learnt about IMA Cochin’s initiative “Cup of Life” and vice versa, they decided to kick off an aggressive campaign to make sure this initiative accomplishes its goals. The lower conversion rates for both entities while working separately was due to the source problem – the social constructs. Women are taught from a young age that menstruation is a very private thing & not to be discussed even with other women or anyone for that matter. The idea behind this initiative is not just promoting menstrual cups, but breaking the taboo of not talking about periods, sex life, virginity, mood swings, etc. Cup of Life became a symbol of hope to discuss the pain women are going through during menstruation in public. This became a platform for women to share their experiences & problems, and at the same time give awareness to men about the sufferings & emotional state of a woman during periods. 

 

 

“Our goal is to normalize the same. This is a massive effort taken and we know change is not going to happen in one day. But this is the first big step taken towards success, and I appreciate our MP who took this first step. Usually, our politicians do not take upon such initiatives. But Hibi Eden MP took it up & is creating a replicative structure where in which we can interfere in every social stratum & break the taboo. The most encouraging factor of this initiative is of the people from Colleges, Local Self Government Departments, and NGOs whom we have been training and how they are taking the effort to take things to the next level.” Dr. Akhil stated.

 

The “Cup of Life” initiative is driven by Hibi Eden MP with CSR partner Muthoot Finance Group. IMA Cochin & Ernakulam District Administration are partners in this and the activities are enabled with support from numerous colleges, government officials, Panchayat & Municipality members, Kudumbashree & Asha workers, Anganavaadi workers, YWCA, Rotary & Women Entrepreneur Network members, and several other NGOs. More than 1000 trainers from these organizations & colleges have been trained and it will be these members who would be collecting the cups on the 30th and distributing the same at public premises on the 31st of August.

 

Activities that strengthened “Cup of Life”

 

Various prominent people in the society including celebrities and other government officials put forth a supporting hand for the promotion of this initiative. Actor Parvathy Thiruvothu kicked off this campaign on International Women’s day, March 8th and led a lot of training sessions & also shared her experience in using menstrual cups. The logo was launched by Actor Jayasurya who congratulated the coordinators & organizers for taking up such an initiative. “3000 days of Freedom” – the tagline of this initiative was promoted by actor Aiswarya Lekshmi through an advertisement and Singer Arya Dhayal did a cover song for this initiative. Plenty of YouTubers, influencers & media are also seen supporting this cause & spreading the word.

 

 

Several awareness sessions were done at colleges and government offices on menstruation & breaking social constructs. An activity was done at Kochi Metro called “Arthavavum Arupathum” allowing women to talk about menstruation in a public venue. The “Feel the pain” activity was held in Lulu Mall to make men understand a little bit of pain that a woman endures during menstruation, & before or after. 

 

The medical aspects & benefits of menstrual cups

 

Sanitary napkins & tampons are either disposed of in water or ground or just burnt. There is a practice specifically for the women who stay near waters to simply tie the used pads in a plastic cover & throw them in the lake. Considering how these methods add to pollution, the menstrual cup is a sustainable method of saving the environment as it can be reused for 5-10 years. For the same reason, menstrual cups are also economically a better option for women who spent a lot of money every month buying sanitary pads & tampons.

 

 

Doctors from IMA Cochin teach how to choose a cup as there are a lot of badly marketed cups on the market. “Check for ISO USP Classics graded Platinum cured liquid medical grade Silicon – this material is used for valve transplant, ensuring that this material does not cause any adverse reactions with the body. To choose a brand make sure it is a Good Manufacturing Practice (GMP) certified company with 211 toxins tested brand.” Said Dr. Akhil Manuel. IMA Cochin had met with various manufacturers from India and has chosen a Bombay-based company complying with the above medical factors & economically priced better brand to develop the 1 Lakh menstrual cups to be distributed on 31st August 2022. 

 

The next comes in choosing the size & design of the cups. IMA Cochin suggests a knuckle rule test by inserting the index finger into the vaginal opening and measuring the length. Accordingly, the cup size is to be chosen from Small, Medium, or Large. The design to choose depends on individual factors and is not medically relevant.

(for more information check: www.cupoflife.net)

 

The response from the public

 

Even though this initiative is related to empowering women, support is equal from all genders. Women empowerment talks are usually focused on just one sex, and this initiative has started the change where all sexes are equally supportive & inclusive. “ When we first conducted an awareness session at a college in Kochi, the first person to buy a menstrual cup was a boy and when we asked him why did he buy the cup, he answered that this might be the best gift I can give to my mother or my aunts.” Said Dr. Akhil when he was talking about the initial sessions held by IMA Cochin 2 years ago. “Cup of Life” has created a space for women to go tell the men in her circle that she is on period & men are also able to understand what menstruation is both physically & mentally when a woman tells this.

 

 

“Feel the pain” activity was done with a pain stimulator and a lot of men got to understand what a woman goes through every month by making them experience a small percentage of this pain. The pain stimulator is placed in the lower belly and the intensity of vibrations will be increased giving the person a frustrating pain similar to period cramps. This was received very well by the public & a lot of men stated that they were shocked to experience this pain & respects woman who are going through this every month.

 

“The actual conversion rate of our initiative is still not yet known. More than 80,000 women have registered, and we are giving 1 lakh menstrual cups. I would say that this initiative is successful according to me & my team, and this is not as if we are going to break the world record or achieve the Guinness world record. The foundational idea was to break the taboo & discuss menstruation in public & women not to be ashamed of it, in that we have succeeded & women are receiving it very well.” Stated Hibi Eden MP.

 

 

Success & the future of “Cup of Life”

 

“I am very enthusiastic as the ground level reporting of this initiative is very successful in using the menstrual cup. As with any new product, the first 2-3 times are challenging. Just like how you got to use a contact lens, after an initial 2-3 times you get used to it and it’s the same for cups. For this, first, you need to deal with the taboo & then make it happen. You can go swimming, dancing & do anything while on period using menstrual cups – hence the tagline “3000 days of freedom”. IMA Cochin will follow up on this initiative & continue the campaigns & activities even after 31st of August.” Dr. Akhil explained when he was asked about the success rates of this initiative.

 

 

Hibi Eden MP explained that he focuses on the happiness of people & how he will be continuing the support to this cause, even though he might not involve in activities as much as now to prepare for his upcoming revolutionizing public supporting initiatives, “We feel like we haven’t reached a lot of women even though we are conducting a lot of programs. The menstrual cup was first made in the 1930s and till now no open discussion was happening. So I never thought I would be able to talk about this to people in government or colleges or the public generally. Road fixing, building bridges, or construction will happen no matter who comes into power or is the representative of the people. Someone rarely takes such basic yet important initiatives as promoting menstrual cups that empower society. My goal was to reach out to people; In European countries, the development of society is based on the Happiness Index of common people & not on the number of roads or buildings built. So, I expect when I say I am doing this, many people won’t oppose and will stay together & support this cause increasing our Happiness Index. Muthoot Finance Group assisted us in achieving this vision along with IMA Cochin & Ernakulam District Administration Office and support from a lot of NGOs, Colleges & other volunteers.”

 

 

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