The effects of culture and traditional taboos on menstruation. - Demystifying menstruation

Women’s menstrual health and the environment was the pilot project sponsored by the Nelson Mandela and Graca Machel Foundation in 2011. This project was profoundly successful involving 350 Cameroonian women. With the success of this pilot project Awedp extended its program to more than 6000 women in rural Cameroon where menstruation was a taboo that restricted them from acquiring their livelihood through farming. Because of the pervading taboos which prohibit women from farming while menstruating, and because they do not have access to hygiene, affordable menstrual products, their productivity is severely limited or non - existence for up to a quarter of every month. Young girls drop out of school or are forced to marry prematurely due to menstruation. Through the provision of the innovative reusable menstrual cups and accompanying education and awareness programming, women were able to increase their productivity by an anticipated 25% while enjoying the parallel sustaining benefit.


The campaign was designed to address the challenges that women encounter with traditions, productivity, the environment and menstruation; to prevent women from using unhygienic rags, tree leaves old clothes toilet paper, newspaper and other unconventional methods of dealing with menstruation which made them vulnerable to disease, splits and accidents; and to ensure that women could have access to affordable and hygienic sanitary protection through the menstrual cups and washable pads which were previously not available to women in rural communities.


The objectives of Awedp-forum were specifically to improving the lives of menstruating women were met beyond expectations. Retired teachers and nurses who were trusted in the villages were trained to monitor and continued the education process after the campaign. The campaign started off with a workshop on the anatomy of the reproductive system. Then open discussions on the culture and taboos that hinder women from living useful and productive lives. This was the most interesting part as women participated fully in the discussions. Women were introduced to menstrual care and the importance of hygiene during menstruation. An evaluation there months after, indicated that women had learnt how to use the cups and were very comfortable in them. The responses were very satisfying. “I can go to the farm and stay as long as I want. I am confident now during my menses. Tradition has nothing to do with my menses. I am not afraid to talk about it."


Awedp-forum increased the productivity of women farmers in rural Cameroon through novel menstrual technologies and accompanying educational programing that responded directly to the unique needs of women. The programme was customized to their individual and collective needs. Cameroonian women in particular face challenging attitudes and restrictions around menstruation and pervasive taboos restrict them from participating in community life. During this workshops, women spoke openly over a topic that up to this time had been a taboo. Women learnt the reason d’etre of menstruation, why it occurs and how to handle it. Much more Awedp-forum used a holistic method in the program which enabled participants to learn more about their health


The lives of every woman in the villages where the menstrual seminar took place had a change in attitude. As a doctor in the hospital in that community, I noticed a decrease in the number of women and children who came to hospital for menstrual problems and children’s’ preventable diseases. This project created awareness on reproductive health and provided more than 6000 women with menstrual cups, reusable and washable pads which prevented young girls and women from using rags, tree barks, newspapers and leaves. Girls from rural areas did not use anything at all. They simply stayed home for 3-5 days every month. Now they can have access to affordable and hygienic sanitary protection which was previously not available. This project brought a social innovation around the issue of menstruation as the need for sanitary pads is perpetual.


Awedp-forum had a few challenges to deal with:
1. To convince the women themselves to forget about the tradition.
Women said it was the tradition of their mothers and they had to keep it. 20% of women refused the new technology.
2. We had to involve men into the program.
3. The lack of pipe- borne water in the villages was a great challenge.
4. We taught women how to boil water washing their cups to avoid contamination.
5. Women want the cups and we cannot give them for free anymore; we are now looking for means and ways to sew washable pads or get the moon cup to sell to women. The manufacturer has already promised us a reduction in price.
6. The younger virgin girls could not use the cups so we are looking forward to sewing washable cheap pads for them so they can go to school and stay in school during menstruation.
7. We have the big challenge of raising funds to meet the needs of the rural Cameroonian and African women eventually.


Traditional senseless taboos and poverty cripples young women’s ability to achieve a healthy transition into adulthood and silences their voices and contributions to discussions on social development and reduces their ability to acquire a quality of education and end unplanned, premature or forced marriages, pregnancies and child bearing before the age of 17.

Our community – oriented strategy where educators/health practitioners were Cameroonian drew local skills and talents to ensure that educators were well versed in local customs, needs, preferences, sensitivity and learning style. The need for economical and environmentally friendly menstrual care as well as the deconstruction of related cultural taboo is even more critical than we anticipated. There is a need to consolidate our research and knowledge of our results so that we can expand our funding base and bring this project to meet needs in other groups of Cameroonian women.