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How Menstrual Cups are Helping Build Confidence Among Refugee Girls in Uganda

Photo: Peter Caton/CARE

Photo: Peter Caton/CARE

Photo: Peter Caton/CARE

Two bedsheets and two sets of clothes. That’s all 20-year-old Viola Jackline was able to take with her on her arduous two-week trek by foot from South Sudan to Uganda. Violence in South Sudan drove Viola, her three siblings and their grandmother from their home.

They witnessed killings and escaped gunshots. They faced, thirst, hunger, and sexual harassment from armed men before reaching the Ugandan border.

The bed sheets allowed Viola and her family to sleep in the bush in a dark, camouflaged area. Her grandmother carried two saucepans to cook what little food they had along the way. Now they are trying to build a life in Uganda’s Imvepi refugee settlement, along with more than 100,000 other South Sudanese.

Among the many challenges faced by girls and women like Viola fleeing crises is access to the education and resources to manage their periods. Like other women and girls in the settlement, it was difficult for Viola to find money to buy pads. At times, she’s been forced to sell her food ration in order to buy a piece of cloth and a robe, which is torn and fitted to hold the cloth and then fastened around her waist. It’s a bulky and uncomfortable way for Viola and others to manage their menstrual cycles, but it’s often their only option.

Periods can make school stressful for female students who are uncomfortable and may not have all the information they need to know what’s going on with their bodies. Boys often tease girls when their uniforms show an outline of a pad or staining and go through their bags looking for menstrual supplies in order to make fun of them. The bullying affected Viola’s self-esteem, disrupted her focus and isolated her from her schoolmates. One of Viola’s friends, Jenet, dropped out of school after being bullied about a stain on her uniform.

Last spring, Viola participated in a menstrual cup pilot at the settlement along with 100 other women and girls. The pilot, supported by European Union Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid (ECHO), CARE, Oxfam, CERFORD and WoMena, trained the group on menstrual hygiene and the use of Ruby Cups, a healthier, more sustainable, and eco-friendly alternative to pads and tampons. Ruby cups are made from 100-percent soft, medical-grade silicone and are reusable for up to 10 years.

Learning to use the cup was more difficult than she anticipated, and Viola nearly gave up. But with the encouragement of her friends in the program, she stuck with it. She says the cup is much more comfortable than other methods, and because it’s reusable, she won’t have to look for money to buy cloth or pads.

While Viola was confident in using the Ruby Cup, family and neighbors had their doubts. Misperceptions in the community about the cup being a form of birth control or impacting a user’s virginity, among other beliefs, presented a challenge. Men play an important role in decision-making and help shape local perceptions. CARE worked to educate and train a select group of men, known locally as Role Model Men, about menstruation and how to support their wives, sisters, and daughters. Viola had several Role Model Men in her community who helped her family understand the importance of supporting Viola during her cycle and using the Ruby Cup.

Since she started using a menstrual cup, Viola’s noticed a change in her self-esteem and confidence. She now plays football, participates in youth meetings, and can walk long distances and attend class during her period without having to worry.

“I am comfortable and I have confidence,” she says.

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