Why we started
UFULU is a UK based charity created by Widge Woolsey in 2018 to provide women and girls in Malawi with menstrual cups – a sanitary product that is reusable, safe, eco-friendly and hygienic.
UFULU means freedom in Chichewa, the language of Malawi. We are working hard to give women the power to live freely and we need your help to do it!
“In 2018, when I was staying on Likoma, Nandi and I became really good friends. We had the chance to have some long girly chats and before I left 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.”
Widge asked Nandi to explain exactly what most women use. Rather than just talk about it, Nandi took Widge back to her house and showed her the rags that she used. And this is it…a large piece of t-shirt type material, which is then folded over itself until it is the size of a small house brick. Not only are rags like these very uncomfortable, each rag will only last a couple of hours before it has to be changed. For women who are working, or away from their homes, the issue arises of where to put their used rag. They are bulky to carry around, are obviously damp and they smell. Then the rag has to be washed thoroughly and dried before it can be reused.
This is a big problem in the rainy season. Women are embarrassed to hang their rags outside and many hide them away inside their houses, where they receive no ventilation or direct sunlight. As a consequence they do not dry properly and many women end up with nappy rash and bacterial vaginosis. 90% of the women we have spoken to, told us they have permanent nappy rash, all the time. And of course they don’t have the money to buy a product like sudacream, so once again, they suffer in silence.
Many teenage girls in Malawi just don’t go to school when they have their periods. They feel embarrassed and worry about smelling, leaks and stains on their clothing. We don’t believe any girl should miss out on her education simply because she is menstruating. The United Nations states that the easiest way to bring a developing country up in the world rankings is to educate its women. But if the girls are missing a quarter of their education just because they have their periods, this will never be achieved.
“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 latrines and putting pads down them means they 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.”
"Thank you so much, you have changed my life!"
“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. Women shouldn’t be suffering in silence when they menstruate. Girls should not be missing out on school just because they have their periods.”