I was in grade VI when a girl started crying during assembly. One of our teachers - a female - took her to the office. Later, when I asked around, nobody knew what had happened; the teachers wouldn’t talk and the girl was sent home for the day. Some months later, I experienced an excruciating pain in my abdomen. I went to the loo, not knowing what to do, not knowing if this would even help. My mother accompanied me; lucky for me, I guess. I was astonished to see all that blood on my clothes - the pain would still not stop - while my mother handled it all calmly. Once at home, my elder sister explained that I was menstruating. Mens-what?!
Years later, during my O Levels, I sketched the human reproductive systems. I was very proud of my drawing - apparently my teacher thought so, too. But some of the girls in my class giggled when they saw it and pointed out to others in their group as well. This was a girls’ school, not to say we were young girls of 15 and 16, but they somehow reminded me of the teacher who hushed me back in grade VI when I exclaimed in class that there was an extra chapter in my science book (new edition) and it was on reproductive system. The boys snickered and I blushed, thinking I had committed a crime.
Last year, as I sat in my office checking my social media feed, I came across this piece: Students from the Department of Information & Technology and Liberal Arts at Beaconhouse National University had set out to break this taboo in Pakistan by placing 25 sanitary towels on their university’s wall. Soon enough, the floor was abuzz, most of them (including me) dismissing it as a stupid act. There was no “need” to put up this show of stained pads, right.
There is a need to discuss these issues. Bound by traditions and the cultural norms of what “sharam” (as practiced by girl) should be, an average girl - or boy - kind of forgets that menstruation is natural. It’s a monthly cycle, and it’s not forbidden by our religion to talk or create awareness about it. And it’s not just about being comfortable with the idea of “the waste blood”; it’s more about young people getting to know their body making the right decision to maintain their hygiene. Pads (even delivered in brown bags with smirks) for most of us have been the only option since forever. Some graduated and got hold of the tampons at the next level. A handful, however, knows of a product that is far safer, zero waste, and pocket friendly: the menstrual cup.
Recircle - our hot favourite
Us got in touch with one of the cofounders of Recircle enterprise, Wasma Imran to learn more about it. “Recircle Cup is basically a company that sells menstrual cups in Pakistan with an aim to create awareness to end the period taboo.” She along with the other cofounder, Mahin Khan, has been pleasantly surprised by the support they received not just from their city - Lahore - but also throughout Pakistan. “Mahin and I got a lot of support from our families, friends, and the people we talked to. Yes, there were questions like ‘is it haraam to use’ and ‘how does it affect one’s virginity’. On the day of its launch, we received hundreds of queries on our website; it was overwhelming. Sure, there was some backlash and some people said we were teaching bad habits to our youth but we didn’t let it overpower the positive feedback. We feel that questions like ‘how to clean it’ are all valid. People don’t know about this product at all so whenever we organize interactive sessions at universities, we tell people exactly what this is and how they can use it. For instance, we clarify how virginity is related to sexual intercourse and until you have it, you remain a virgin no matter what you put inside.”
Popping the big question: what is it
“A menstrual cup is basically a feminine hygiene product, an alternative to sanitary napkins or tampons. When a girl is on her period, she needs something to catch that blood. Instead of putting a pad in her underwear, she inserts this cup inside the vagina, positioning it right between the cervix and the vaginal opening. The insertion is similar to a tampon’s, yet there is a difference - where tampons (and pads) are chemically treated for easy absorption of blood, where a lot of plastic has been used to produce them, Recircle cups are sustainable and suitable for people in the long run. It’s also recommended by doctors since it is made of silicon which is non-reactive and just collects your blood without affecting your body.”
Recircle, for the time being, is offering two types of cups - for girls who have not given birth and are around 25 years of age, and for those who are older and have given birth. They do plan to introduce a third type, though, for teenage girls.
Comfortably yours for 10 years
The LUMS graduate is well-versed in her topic: “When you take the cup out of the packet, you have to boil it. You have to boil it in clean water (preferably drinking water) twice a month. Once before your period starts, and the second time when your period ends and when you’re putting the cup away in storage. If you want to take extra care (not mandatory since silicone is bacteria resistant), it can be immersed in water with 1-2 drops of Dettol for 10-15 minutes before you boil it. Washing it thoroughly after it stays in Dettol is recommended. To clean the cup during your period, wash it with clean water and soap only.”
One common confusion is regarding spillage. “When you have it inside, your vagina is kind of sealed so blood would not come out. If the cup is full or it’s not properly open, then there are chances of leakage. Otherwise, you can swim, exercise, shower and do whatever you want without being afraid of a stain.”
“A lot of girls think it would get stuck inside the vagina and hence they avoid it. The thing with using a menstrual cup is that insertion is a little challenging at first. Sometimes this is because girls are seldom familiar with their own anatomy and therefore don’t know how to insert it. Anyways, it does come with a learning curve and you need to be more committed towards it to get comfortable wearing it. It may feel as if it’s stuck, but that is just suction and once that is released, you can easily pull out the cup. When you get the hang of it, you won’t feel a thing!”
A single woman dumps around 11,000 pads in her lifetime. There are around 55 million women in Pakistan who’re menstruating. The level of change that we can influence just by using a reusable product! Like Wasma said, “to get to that point you have to do a bit of an effort; after that, things are going to be easy.”