The ‘Rohingya Refugee Camp’ in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, is home to over two hundred thousand families who fled across the border from neighboring Myanmar to seek refuge in 2017. Approximately one million displaced Rohingya people live in this area, and half of them are women and girls.
Needless to say, no family is protected until the health of women and girls is protected. Menstrual hygiene is integral to women's health and wellbeing. Poor menstrual hygiene, however, poses serious health risks, like reproductive and urinary tract infections (UTI) which can result in infertility and birth complications.
“Feminine hygiene is often overlooked in our camp. As a result, girls and women are left to manage their periods on their own, many people are compelled to reuse old rags. And it is not something we discuss with anyone,” says 18-year-old Yasmin from Camp 11.
She is one of a growing number of women in the camp who are now able to sew and safely use their own sanitary pads, to the great benefit of their own health, wellbeing, and dignity.
Minara, 33. Camp 8W, Cox’s Bazar
Idea sparked by tragic death
A year ago, Shamsun Nahar, another young woman in the Rohingya camp, died of rectal cancer at the age of 25. According to her neighbours, she also had other complications such as urinary infection, which she disclosed to them while she was alive. Her tragic death made a huge impact on the local community of Rohingya women who started to raise concerns about feminine hygiene among themselves.
Not long after Shamsun’s passing, a group of women from camp 8W came to the DRC protection team with an idea. They wanted to produce sanitary pads for themselves and other women in the camp, in order to practice cleanliness and prevent infections like UTI. The local DRC protection staff respected the idea and took the initiative to make it happen.
By the end of March 2022, 94 women and girls had received materials and training on how to sew and safely use reusable sanitary pads. One of those women is Minara, 33. She is pleased that she now has a safer and easier option than before:
“We have no money to buy sanitary pads, so we used to use old clothes, which caused a lot of itching and infections. Two years ago, an NGO gave us some disposable pads. We used them for a few months before they ran out, and we don’t receive those pads anymore. By the help of DRC, we have now learned how to make our own reusable sanitary pads.”
Nur Kalima, 16. Camp 11, Cox’s Bazar
Along with training in sewing their own pads, the 94 women received cloth, scissors, needles, underwear, and other materials to make and use the reusable sanitary pads. DRC staff also instruct them in safe use and hygienic maintenance, says DRC staff and trainer Joynab Akter:
“We follow hygiene instructions from doctors. The women are instructed to change pads within 4 to 6 hours, and we teach them how to wash the pads and dry them properly. We are really happy to see their awareness rising to the benefit of their health.”
16-year-old Nur Kalima, who lives in Camp 11, stresses the importance of hygienic awareness:
“If we can't maintain hygienic practices, our entire lives will be endangered. It is especially important for adolescent girls like us.”
Techniques and awareness widely spread
Although only 94 women and girls received the original training, many more displaced women and girls benefit from it, since more than a thousand pads have been produced, and awareness is shared widely. The women also share the pad making techniques, so that other women can make the pads themselves, as well as teach others.
When women and girls are protected, the benefits extend to the entire family, and eventually to the entire camp.
“My neighbor thanked me after using one of our pads, and they are also highly appreciated by adolescent girls. It is of no use to be shy – we must share the hygiene awareness among girls and women in the camp, otherwise more will suffer,” says Minara.
Let’s imagine that all displaced women and girls get access to hygienic and dignified measures while menstruating.
Interview by: Joynab Akter, Moni Akter and Sina Hasan
Minara, 33. Camp 8W, Cox’s Bazar