UFULU is a UK based charity created to provide women and girls in Malawi with menstrual cups - a sanitary product that is reusable, safe, eco-friendly and hygienic.
In rural Africa, most women use cloth rages, newspaper or bits of blanket for their sanitary protection. Sanitary pads or tampons are not readily available and are prohibitively expensive.
Menstrual cups are designed to be reusable. We use Ruby Cups - they are made from medical grade silicone and last for up to 10 years. They provide a hygienic sanitary solution with no waste issues. They are easy to clean - they just need to be boiled for 5 minutes to sterilise them - and are discreet and comfortable to wear.
“In 2018, when I was staying on Likoma, Nandi and I became really good friends. We had good chats and at one stage I gave Nandi a load of tampons that I didn't need (I use a cup but always take tampons just in case) and she was so pleased to have them. So then I asked her what she normally used. Nandi looked down at the floor and told me she used rags. I felt so stupid – I had lived and worked in Africa but it had never even occurred to me that most women couldn't afford to buy pads or tampons. I felt so western, so privileged and so incredibly ignorant. I went back to Likoma later that year and made sure I took Nandi some more tampons. But even then, I knew it wasn’t a realistic or sustainable solution. Likoma, like most of Malawi, has a massive waste issue. Rubbish is not collected – most is burnt in communal open pits. As a woman you are not going to take your used pads to a communal pit. Most people use drop toilets and putting pads down these means they clog up quickly and contaminate the soil. The situation was so dire in every way imaginable. So that was when I thought – I need to do something about this.
I had been using a cup for a while and had it with me, so I showed it to Nandi and explained how it worked. She was really impressed with it. When I explained that it's reusable and you just boil it in water to clean it, that there’s no problem with washing or hanging it up to dry like cloth rags or reusable pads, she just smiled at me and said “That is an amazing thing”. The problem for her was the cost - women in Malawi just can't afford them. The average woman on Likoma earns £20 a month. I couldn't bear the thought of her going back to using rags, so I sent Nandi a cup for Christmas and when I phoned her in the New Year, her words were “Thank you so much, you have changed my life”. And that’s when I realised I needed to do something. No one deserves to suffer in silence whilst menstruating. Women shouldn’t be suffering in silence when they menstruate. Girls should not be missing out on school just because they have their periods."
UFULU means freedom in Chichewa, the language of Malawi, and the charity was started up by Widge Woolsey, after going back to Likoma Island in 2018.
Whilst on the island, Widge became friends with Nandi, who lives in Nkwazi village. Widge was staying with an old friend there and whilst chatting with Nandi, discovered that despite earning a good wage for the island, she was forced to use cloth rags when she had her period, as there were very few sanitary products for sale on the island. The choices were limited and most were priced out of the reach of rural women.
Widge was embarrassed that despite having travelled and worked across southern Africa for 20 years, it had never even occurred to her that the majority of women in rural Africa, live in total period poverty.