Improving menstrual health and hygiene for women and girls in East Darfur

UNICEF supports vulnerable girls and women in internally displaced camps with menstrual hygiene kits

Khamisa Mohamed
menstrual hygiene menstruation
24 August 2020

Menstrual hygiene management (MHM) is one of the neglected health and hygiene issues surrounding the rights of vulnerable girls and women in camps for internally displaced persons (IDPs). For hundreds of these vulnerable women and girls living in IDP camps, this natural monthly occurrence is disruptive.

Women and girls in IDP camps often deal with the lack of access to menstrual hygiene products or if they are available the sharp rise in the price of sanitary pads makes it impossible to buy due to poverty.  Stigma and period poverty has a significant impact on the lives of vulnerable women and girls in IDP camps who often have to resort to using unhygienic alternatives such as using dried leaves and dirty old clothes as sanitary pads. This causes discomfort that can increase their risk of infections - especially since they are often washed without detergents and dried indoors, out of shame and fear of superstitions related to menstruation.

Hygiene and menstruation

Without improved hygiene behavior such as handwashing with soap and water after changing used clothes and sanitary napkins it will be challenging for women and girls to stay healthy during their menstrual cycle. 

To address the persistent issues of health and hygiene UNICEF partnered with the State Ministry of Health and the State Ministry of Social Welfare to support improved hygiene behaviors among this population. Hygiene educators trained a total of 600 women and girls in the camp, distributed family hygiene kits including sanitary towels and spread messages to combat stigma. 

The women and girls were so relieved and happy after receiving the sanitary pads, as it meant that they can have their periods without fear of embarrassment and they no longer had to stay in isolation at home and miss activities or school. 

Leila Mustafa who lives in the camp and participated in the training said, “I share a little torn towel with my 11-year-old daughter during our menstruation because buying actual sanitary pads from the shops is very expensive and not available. The family hygiene kits are crucial for us.  In the past I used to feel bad each time I had my monthly period, I didn’t feel comfortable using unhygienic rugs they are not comfortable, nor are they effective, and they can lead to very serious health concerns,  with free disposable sanitary pads provided, I can safely manage my health, I can now openly talk about menstruation and the sanitary pads. I feel confident and empowered.”

Bringing change to the community

Nasra Ali, 15-years-old, was inspired by the training session.  She quickly understood the value of the education which focused on how menstrual hygiene and health could be practiced in the camp where UNICEF supported water and sanitation facilities could helpt to manage periods safely and with dignity when practiced with improved hygiene practices. 

Nasra felt empowered, she volunteered and joined the hygiene educators to mobilize her friends and family.  With the support of hygiene educators, she managed to speak up to women and girls on the risk of sharing of re-usable pads and not washing their hands with soap and water after changing sanitary napkins. She also demonstrated how to use the pads provided by UNICEF.  to empower them to manage their period safely, hygienically and with confidence.

More women and girls became enthusiastic along with Nasra, because of her ability to influence fellow community members on their behavior, they joined the hygiene educators to advocate to many different members of the communities.  Students, parents, teachers, community leaders, women and girls changed their practice of using old sets of dirty clothes and adapted sanitary pads provided, which help women and girls manage their periods safely hygienically and with dignity. 

Nasra now, and her community, now have what every girl deserves, the right to dignity.