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Menstrual Hygiene for RefugeesWhen looking at menstrual hygiene for refugees, imagine for a moment, having a period while fleeing political violence or natural disaster when sanitary products and private sanitation facilities are scarce. In the Syrian refugee crisis alone, there are more than one million girls and women between the ages of 12 and 59 in need of access to menstrual hygiene. This means that 29 percent of the more than four million Syrian refugees are in need of access to menstrual hygiene.

While refugee camps make sure to provide food, shelter and clean water, many personal items are not provided. Too often, menstrual hygiene for refugees such as disposable products and private facilities not given adequate attention. In turn, many women and girls often have to rely on reusing rags or garbage, which can lead to infections. However, there are organizations working to improve access to menstrual hygiene for refugees.

Rwanda

In refugee settlements in Rwanda, more than 10,000 women and girls from Burundi struggle with maintaining menstrual hygiene. Plan International Rwanda is working to improve access to menstrual hygiene for refugees by providing 3,668 women and girls with underwear and sanitary pads. By providing them access to sanitary products, Plan International Rwanda allows girls to go to school, play with other children and feel more confident.

Uganda

The nation of Uganda has been attacking the problem of menstrual hygiene for refugees from multiple angles. The Danish Refugee Council (DRC), for example, has been distributing menstrual hygiene supplies such as reusable pads, buckets, soap, towels and undergarments. In addition, they are building latrines and carrying out community sensitization activities to destigmatize menstruation.

Reusable menstrual hygiene products have proven to be an important option for refugees. Just four reusable pads provided by the DRC can last a refugee a year. Another reusable option that has grown in popularity thanks to the NGO WoMena is the use of menstrual cups. These medical-grade silicone cups can be worn up to 12 hours at a time and are less likely to leak. One cup can also be reused for up to a decade. The organization provides training to teach refugees how to use them. This aids in destigmatizing misconceptions around its use and losing one’s virginity. Of those who decided to try these reusable cups, 81 percent reported satisfaction with the product.

Jordan

In Jordan’s Zaatari Refugee Camp, the U.K.-based non-profit, Loving Humanity has been working to not only provide sanitary products but also job opportunities. Jobs are being created by implementing 12 machines that assemble low-cost sanitary products in 2016. These machines were pioneered in India by Arunachalam Muruganantham after seeing his wife hoarding rags because she could not afford menstrual hygiene supplies. His design creates inexpensive pads by breaking down tree bark cellulose. It is very popular among rural women in India because it costs approximately 30 cents for a 10-pack of pads.

The cost of one machine is $2,000 and a month’s worth of materials is $360. This will produce 30,000 pads. In Zaatari, these machines aim to employ women in the community. This gives them a sense of empowerment and control over their bodies as well as a paycheck.

When it comes to disaster management, it is vital to include menstrual hygiene for refugees. While these methods have helped improve access to menstrual hygiene products, many refugees still have to choose between food and hygiene. Access to these supplies, though, opens a world of opportunities for girls. They can play with other kids and pursue their educations without the anxiety of stigmatization.

– Katharine Hanifen
Photo: Flickr

reusable sanitary padsIt is estimated that one in 10 girls in African countries miss school monthly due to a lack of supplies and education related to menstruation. The negative connotations of “becoming a woman” and the mystery surrounding these changes can not only create girls’ unhealthy perceptions of themselves and their bodies but can affect more concrete aspects of their lives, including their education.

Effects of Lack of Education on Menstruation

Many girls will skip school to avoid the potential embarrassment and shame associated with having one’s period show. Due to its monthly recurrence, many young women are unable to catch up on the material they have missed and will eventually drop out of school altogether.

In Uganda, 70 percent of girls leave school between the ages of 13 and 18. Low enrollment for both genders is common due to a variety of circumstances in many African countries.

However, with menstruation typically beginning around 13 years old and girls’ limited access to sexual health education and supplies, dropout rates increase for young women at a rate 10 percent higher than boys of the same age. Access to reproductive health education and cost effective menstruation supplies such as reusable sanitary pads can be powerful tools in keeping young women in school.

Benefits of Reusable Sanitary Pads

Disposable menstruation supplies are often too expensive for families to afford, forcing many young women to use unsanitary alternatives such as old clothes or to go without sanitary pads altogether. Reusable sanitary pads are a cheap, effective and empowering tool for young African women.

NGOs such as Girls2Women and Mums for Mums have assisted in teaching girls how to sew their own reusable sanitary pads for less than $1 from basic patterns and locally sourced materials that attach easily to undergarments with velcro. The Peace Corp has also been an important player in educating and empowering young women through Girls Leading Our World, or GLOW, camps.

Started in Romania in 1995, GLOW camps have since opened in over 60 countries around the world. Each camp is focused on empowering young women and combating local issues such as malaria and HIV/AIDS prevention, reproductive health, stress tolerance and healthy living through education and training.

Positive Effects of GLOW Camps

In African countries with GLOW camps, learning to make reusable sanitary pads often features in the education of the young women. In countries such as Tanzania and Uganda, the creation of reusable sanitary pads begun by GLOW camp educations has been picked up by local charities and community organizations, helping normalize menstruation for girls and boys in the community alike and ultimately keep more young women in school.  

By making the reusable sanitary pads themselves, girls are able to move forward in their lives with more knowledge and confidence in themselves and their bodies, and menstruation becomes less of an unknown force to be feared. The inclusion of parents, teachers and boys is also valuable to the program’s effectiveness and longevity as well as the confidence and empowerment of the young women.

In Uganda, the charity Mountains of Hope offers educational programs on reproductive health and teen pregnancy and training in making reusable sanitary pads. These include men and boys so as to better educate and support young women of the community.

With this vital education and training in making reusable sanitary pads, as well as other aspects of reproductive health, girls in many African countries are better able to pursue their education without compromising their wellbeing. Organizations such as the Peace Corp, Girls2Women and Mountains of Hope have created opportunities for communities to feel empowered and create change with their young women, giving them the chance to achieve the education all children deserve.

– Anna Lally
Photo: Flickr