Being uprooted from one’s community and forced to flee one’s home is a traumatizing experience. But when additional struggles are added to this hardship, including menstruation and a lack of access to any female hygiene products, it becomes that much more difficult to find any sense of peace during the experience. Refugee camps seek to provide aid and comfort to refugees during this chaotic time in their lives, but these camps often neglect to provide products that are essential to helping women and girls throughout the duration of their period.
Refugee camps often prioritize shelter, food, and clothing over gender-specific products such a tampons or pads. Most women and girls take their access to female hygiene products for granted and never consider what it would be like to experience their period without a tampon or pad. Fortunately for refugees, there are some emerging women’s organizations throughout the world that are focusing specifically on providing refugee women and girls with safe menstrual hygiene.
In Essex, England, many activists have decided to help Syrian women and refugees from numerous other countries gain access to menstrual products. Currently, their efforts are mainly focused in Calais, France, which has ben characterized as one of the biggest refugee camps in Europe. This particular camp houses thousands of refugees who are living in tents. The refugees at Calais come mainly from different countries in Africa, the Middle East, and Asia.
These refugees have been displaced due to political oppression, warfare and violence, religious oppression, and a multitude of other conflicts. Women compromise roughly 10% of the refugee population at Calais, and they are often disrespected for their sex. They (like female refugees at other camps) are extremely vulnerable to harassment, assault, and sexual exploitation. Young girls staying at Calais are prime targets for exploitation and they are often at risk of being taken advantage of on a daily basis. With all of these dangers threatening their well-being, the comfort of a sanitary pad of tampon can provide a woman or girl with just a little sense of relief.
Helen McDonald, Helen Pudney, and Megan Saliu want to help spread this sense of relief to as many female refugees as they can. This group of women advocates has already organized quite a few drives to collect female hygiene products to be delivered to refugee camps. They have collected products including tampons, hygiene wipes, pads, and panty liners. These women set up a crowdfunding page back in August to raise money to fund the purchases of the female hygiene products and have raised thousands of dollars through the site. They have since established their initiative as Supporting Sisters and have been organizing smaller chapters throughout the UK through their Facebook page. The three founding members traveled to the Calais camp back in August to deliver over 3,000 sanitary and hygiene items to the refugees at the camp and more and more donations have been pouring in ever since.
This story goes to show that any small action to help others can spiral into an impactful and influential movement that can benefit the lives of many.
Cover image courtesy of Shutterstock.