The camp where having a period means risking violence
An attacker could be lurking around the corner, or maybe you’re about to catch a painful infection… this is the reality for women using toilets in Cox’s Bazar. We listened to their worries – and this is what we’re doing
For World Menstrual Hygiene Day (Tuesday 28 May 2019), we’re shining a light on three 18-year-olds living in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh. Together, they are dedicated to helping women and girls in their community.
Keeping things hygienic in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, is a difficult task.
It’s the biggest refugee camp in the world, and people live in small, cramped conditions. That’s why the British Red Cross has built latrines and wash facilities here to promote best hygiene practices.
But for a woman in Cox’s Bazar, it isn’t as straightforward.
After these latrines were built, we found that some women and girls weren’t always using them.
There are reports of gender-based violence in the camps.
Many women are terrified to travel to wherever their nearest toilet is located. Some worry that their dignity and privacy will be compromised.
Sometimes, women only go out at night, under the cover of darkness, when it can be even more dangerous.
Women can feel they are risking their lives, just to use the bathroom.
This means that many women and girls go to the toilet in or near their shelters. Every time this happens, they risk becoming vulnerable to disease and infection.
To tackle this problem, the Red Cross and and our partners the Red Crescent set up female community groups to review the toilets and wash points.
Listening to their feedback, we made sure that the female and male facilities were an appropriate distance apart.
Suddenly, the number of women using the toilets and showers increased.
Opening the conversation around menstrual hygiene
Menstrual education is part of the curriculum here in the UK. But girls growing up in Bangladesh often miss this completely, especially if they don’t have a mum, sister or aunt to help them.
Often, their female relatives don’t even have all the information themselves.
For good menstrual hygiene, sharing information is vital. That’s where Nur Kaida, Hamida and Azida – our female hygiene superstars – come in.
They are 18-year-old refugees living in the camp, and want to help others.
They regularly clean the camp’s water sources, check people are using products like hand wash, and hold monthly cleaning campaigns within the community.
Educating other women and girls in their community about feminine hygiene, specifically, is another important part of their work.
“We also inform people about personal hygiene … as a female especially, it’s very important,” says Hamida.
“I can share information especially for those women who stay at home, who don’t go out.
“I can reach them and give them advice on women’s health, for example, when to change their menstrual pads, otherwise they will get ill.”
“We also provide information for girls about to have their first period,” adds Azida.”
Women need access to sanitary products
However, there is a serious lack of basic sanitary products in the camp in Cox’s Bazar, making women and girls’ periods even harder to deal with. All three young women are deeply concerned about this.
“They [women in the camp] can end up bleeding on their clothes.
“Some women use cut-up pieces of clothing in the place of pads, but you can’t use them very often,” Azida tells us.
Every month, some women would have to deal with these distressing situations, never knowing when or if they would have access to any kind of sanitary products.
Special shelters for washing and drying sanitary towels were therefore created.
Thanks to this, more and more women and girls are using the toilets and showers, and experiencing less traumatic periods.
The bigger picture: helping the community
Through educating volunteers like Nur Kaida, Hamida and Azida, women have become a key part of the humanitarian response in Bangladesh.
Day in, day out, they see the positive impact they’ve made.
Hamida says: “We proudly say we know how to help people, we had training from the Red Cross.”
“When we were in Myanmar, we mostly stayed inside,” Hamida explains.
“Now we go outside, we all made new friends thanks to volunteering. Now we feel strong in ourselves.
“We can provide information to our blocks. We try and learn more and continue.”
This World Menstrual Hygiene Day …
… we’re feeling grateful for our staff and volunteers around the world who help women and girls navigate their periods in the toughest situations.
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