Dining for Dignity
According to 25% of British women, the worst time to get a period is while travelling long distances. While we have access to a choice of tampons, pads or menstrual cups, clean and safe sanitary items are a luxury for many female Syrian refugees. When forced to flee a crisis, the only belongings that can afford to be taken are those that can fit onto their back and feminine hygiene is often forgotten. This leads to discomfort and pain, and puts women at an increased risk of disease and infection.
Almost 5 million Syrians have been displaced by the civil war. The Za’atari refugee camp in Jordan is home to approximately 40,000 women and girls. There have been repeated demonstrations in the camp since its opening in 2012, due to inadequate supplies and accommodation. Coupons for local stores are distributed, and a $10 allowance per week for food and water purchases is provided by the UN. However, according to Rescue.org, vouchers cannot be used to purchase sanitary pads, despite them being a basic necessity. Many women are prevented from asking for support due to damaging cultural taboos and the idea that menstruation is something that is shameful, and should be hidden. The majority of relief agencies are failing to provide menstrual hygiene products, and as a result, women and girls resort to using rags, sand and pieces of garbage. After risking everything to seek safety for themselves and their children, it is a tragedy that women and girls should have to take such extreme measures to maintain their dignity and health.
The risk of sexual exploitation is exacerbated by this lack of facilities; toilet blocks are often unisex and bins for the disposal of sanitary items are sometimes situated in full view of the rest of the camp. Consequently, some women choose to change pads during the night, which puts them at a higher risk of violence and abuse. Refugee women are extremely vulnerable to sexual assault, and experience abuse from smugglers, refugees and even security staff. Some women feel so unprotected that they go to great lengths to avoid having to go to the toilet by not eating or drinking. Easy access to toilets or water for washing is often restricted in any case, and insufficient hand-washing and unsafe disposal of used sanitary materials also enables the spread of infections such as Hepatitis B. With no access to pain-relieving medication and the shame surrounding the visibility of menstruation, vital undertakings such as queueing for food and continuing to travel are interrupted or made impossible. The implementation of segregated amenities and the provision of appropriate materials are solutions that we take for granted, but these would greatly alleviate the fear, humiliation and anxiety that women face every month whilst dealing with menstruation in a refugee camp.
There is a Syrian that says, ‘women rock the cradles with their right hand and the world with their left’. Refugee women must navigate through new and challenging circumstances where they are forced to face humiliating and unfair treatment based purely on their gender and a natural physiological process. They are required to somehow support their family and participate in daily life while facing such extreme adversity. They should not have to go through this process alone. It is our duty to ensure that they are provided with the basic necessities to maintain their health, mental wellbeing and dignity. Global One have assembled a female hygiene pack, including a menstrual cup/pack of sanitary towels, a bar of soap, liquid soap, shampoo/conditioner, a toothbrush, toothpaste, comb, flannels, clothes washing soap and a training guide on menstrual cup use. Our Dining for Dignity campaign will raise £10,000 to support 400 women and produce a high-level research paper into the sanitation conditions faced by female refugees. We are asking people to fundraise by hosting dinners and inviting their family and friends to discuss the issues and donate. If you would like to get involved, download our free fundraising pack and share your experiences with us on social media using the hashtag #diningfordignity.