As world marks Menstrual Hygiene Day, women in Gaza lack basic necessities

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As the world marked Menstrual Hygiene Day on Tuesday, women in Gaza lack access to basic necessities such as period products, water, soap, and access to toilets, according to the UK-based non-governmental organization ActionAid.

The majority of women in Gaza have had to deal with period poverty since Israel launched its war on the territory on October 7.

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“Period Poverty” is defined by the lack of access to sanitary products, a safe and hygienic place in which to use them, and the right to manage menstruation without shame or stigma.

“Amid living conditions that can only be described as inhumane, it is almost impossible for women and girls in Gaza to manage their periods in a way that is safe, hygienic and preserves their dignity,” Riham Jafari, Advocacy and Communications Coordinator at ActionAid Palestine told Al Arabiya English in a statement.

Women walk past a vehicle loaded with items secured by rope as people flee from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 13, 2024 north toward the center of the Palestinian territory. (File photo: AFP)
Women walk past a vehicle loaded with items secured by rope as people flee from Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip on February 13, 2024 north toward the center of the Palestinian territory. (File photo: AFP)

“With period products either unavailable or unaffordable, women are being forced to resort to using potentially unsafe and unhygienic alternatives including tent scraps, bits of clothing, or paper – which could put their health at risk.”

Increased prices

With the Israeli military intensifying its attacks on Rafah, humanitarian aid entering Gaza has dropped significantly. The prices of essential products, such as menstrual pads, have risen drastically as a result.

Women in the territory have been forced to choose between starving or buying period products.

Period products have almost disappeared from the local markets in Gaza and, when they are available, prices have soared, according to United Nations Office for the Coordination of Humanitarian Affairs (UNOCHA).

Many women and girls have thus been forced to use products for longer than recommended or rely on unsafe alternatives, such as scraps of tent, ActionAid said.

Displaced Palestinians, who fled their houses due to Israeli strikes, take shelter in a tent camp, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024. (File photo: Reuters)
Displaced Palestinians, who fled their houses due to Israeli strikes, take shelter in a tent camp, in Rafah in the southern Gaza Strip, February 8, 2024. (File photo: Reuters)

“Having your period here is terrible...When one of my daughters has her period, she has to buy pads for 10-15 shekels [$2-3]. It’s too much! We cannot afford it. Each pack has about six pads, which isn’t nearly enough. Two packs aren’t nearly enough for me,” 33-year-old Huda told ActionAid.

For Israa, who lives in a tent for displaced people in Deir al-Balah, the situation is similar.

She told ActionAid: “It has become really difficult [to have my period]. A pack of [period] pads is 15-17 shekels [$3.2- 3.6] Who can afford to spend this much every month? I try to save the pack to last me two cycles...I worry about whether I’ll manage to get pads and other necessities.”

“It’s difficult to live and maintain your hygiene in a tent. It’s almost summer now; back home, we [could] shower a few times a day. Nowadays, we can barely shower and wash our hair once a week. And personal hygiene products are not available.”

Jafari said that the group “demands that all aid routes into Gaza are opened immediately and that the Israeli authorities ensure the safe, unimpeded flow of essential aid into Gaza, as both the ICJ’s provisional measures and UN Security Council’s resolution called on them to do.”

No access to toilets

The majority of the population in Gaza has been displaced and they are living in hugely overcrowded areas, where resources are immensely strained, access to water and soap has been extremely limited, ActionAid said.

Finding privacy is almost impossible, with hundreds of people forced to share a single toilet or shower.

Huda, who is living in a tent in the grounds of a hospital in central Gaza with her three daughters, told ActionAid: “Having your period with no access to water, pads, or soap is one of the worst things. These were already in short supply at the beginning of the war.”

“We don’t have soap. Which [has] led to bathrooms harboring many viruses. People [have] contracted intestinal catarrh and jaundice from using the toilet. I caught jaundice and am still recovering. My eyes are yellow. And I’m having trouble with my eyes and ears. I cannot see or hear properly,” she said.

Israa, 20, is currently living in a tent for displaced people in Deir Al Balah, central Gaza, and worries about being able to afford and access enough period products.

Duaa, 30, who has been displaced to a tent on the grounds of a hospital in Deir al-Balah, told ActionAid: “[The] toilets are not always functioning nor are they always open...It’s a hassle trying to use the [toilet]. People bang on the door the second you walk in... Sometimes, we’re denied access to the bathroom. I look for other [toilets] only to find them in a terrible condition.”

“I shower once a month. Only after my period is over. And that’s it...I can’t even shower weekly, let alone daily… I would love to shower at least once a week, but I cannot,” she said.

Getting their period each month only adds to the distress and discomfort of women and girls in Gaza, who have lived with daily fear, uncertainty, danger and trauma for eight months now, ActionAid said.

“With aid operations majorly disrupted, the humanitarian situation is deteriorating by the day. This cannot go on, we urgently need a permanent ceasefire now, to stop the killing and allow desperately needed aid to flood into Gaza quickly and safely,” Jafari told Al Arabiya English.

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