Small Cup, Big Impact

How a project pilot on menstrual health promotes better rural employment conditions
Malawian women at a menstrual cup training session
Malawian women at a menstrual cup training session ⎮ © GIZ

In Malawi, over 70 percent of girls regularly miss one week of school per month, cannot attend training or are disfavoured in their business activities. With respect to Malawian socio-cultural life, menstruation is linked to shame, stigmatization, and contempt from men and boys.

The GIZ Global Project Employment in Rural Areas with Focus on Youth actively tries to embed menstrual health and hygiene as a cross-cutting topic into its project implementation and running partnerships in Malawi. The project has recently started to sensitize and disseminate menstruation cups to their female target group.

A menstrual cup is a feminine hygiene product that offers safe protection for 12 hours. It is easy to clean and store, reusable for 5-10 years as well as latex and plastic free.

“We are working on employment promotion in the agri-food sector of rural areas and support youth and women to being viable agripreneurs for instance in mushroom production, chicken farming and chili drying,” says Achim Kress, Project Manager of the Global Project’s Country Package Malawi EYA! Empowering Youth in Agribusiness.

“So, we do capacity building and training for youth in rural areas as our core business. We see that women’s readiness to participate in project activities like training and coaching is more likely with sufficient access to sanitary products. We urgently need to remove more such barriers to economic opportunities for women but also for the economic development of the agricultural sector in Malawi,” Kress added.

menstrual cups
Private session with women on menstrual health in rural Malawi ⎮ © GIZ

Why is menstrual health and hygiene important for rural employment promotion?

Women are faced with an uneven playing field when looking for a job, being an entrepreneur and economic self-realization. Apart from poorer employment opportunities, around 80 percent of women have trouble accessing safe sanitary products due to financial constraints. The consequences are immense. Many rural women usually use rags which often leads to vaginal infections such as bacterial vaginosis or permanent nappy rash, critically affecting their ability to work. Therefore, investing in menstrual health is also an investment in women’s empowerment and thus into their education, economic development, opportunities, and freedom to make their own choices.

Addressing this topic also means potentially unlocking better outcomes of the initial project activities of the Global Project, such as agribusiness training, incubation programmes and MSME development, targeting women.

menstrual hygiene
Menstrual cup session with female agripreneurs in Malawi ⎮ © GIZ

How is the initiative implemented?

Ufulu means freedom in Chichewa, a language widely spoken in Malawi. Aiming at women’s freedom, the Malawian partner NGO UFULU introduces the global project’s target group to the topic of menstrual health and hygiene in a trusted set-up for a price of about 11 Euros per trained and cup-equipped women.

UFULU supports a network of so-called ‘cup ladies’ who inform and teach about the 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 taboo anymore. Exchange and awareness may lead to more tolerance and acceptance of menstruation and reduce prejudices against women – menstruation is everybody’s business.

The pilot initiative gets appreciative testimonials

“We will no longer worry about spending on sanitary products and destroying old rags for the next years”, said 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 menstrual health and hygiene to bring them on board for the menstruation cup pilot. 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 Global Project’s commitment for Menstrual Hygiene Day 2023 is to reach 900 women amongst the project’s direct target group with training on menstrual health and hygiene and distribution of menstrual cups in rural Malawi. Awareness raising in combination with training is only one of many approaches to address the topic of menstrual health and hygiene in the framework of project implementation. It has high potential to be replicated by other projects in different country contexts and maybe also as a new GIZ ‘standard’? The pilot phase will be evaluated end of the year.

More and more colleagues in GIZ’s partner countries are advocating for menstrual health and hygiene within their projects and amongst their target groups. They also have committed themselves to more action and investment in menstrual health and hygiene. This 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.

First voices of the pilot

“We will no longer worry about spending on sanitary products and destroying old rags for the next years”, said 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 menstrual health and hygiene to bring them on board for the menstruation cup pilot. 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 Global Project’s commitment for Menstrual Hygiene Day 2023 is to reach 900 women amongst the project’s direct target group with training on menstrual health and hygiene and distribution of menstrual cups in rural Malawi. Awareness raising in combination with training is only one of many approaches to address the topic of menstrual health and hygiene in the framework of project implementation. It has high potential to be replicated by other projects and in different country contexts – maybe also as a new GIZ ‘standard’? The pilot phase will be evaluated end of the year.

More and more colleagues in GIZ’s partner countries are advocating for menstrual health and hygiene within their projects and amongst their target groups. They also have committed themselves to more action and investment in menstrual health and hygiene. This 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.

The GIZ staff initiative MenstruAction, aims to place the topic of menstrual health and hygiene more prominently within German development cooperation as well as globally. It puts a special focus on Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May as an annual awareness-raising opportunity. MenstruAction wants to showcase how we can all contribute to breaking the taboo around menstruation. Therefore, support us, make menstruation also a topic in your daily work and projects, and help make practical activities become a reality wherever you can!

Contact

For any questions regarding the staff initiative MenstruAction, please reach out to menstruaction@giz.de.

Additional information

For more on the menstrual cup pilot of the Global Project Employment in Rural Areas with a Focus on Youth in Malawi, please reach out to daria.hasse@giz.de , idah.bandawe@giz.de.

Stay tuned and connected on our IDA community Menstrual Health and Hygiene for more updates and future events. (GIZ-internal only)

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