The unsanitary truth about periods during a genocide

The unsanitary truth about periods during a genocide

Written by Zainab Amanullah

Photo under creative license

Zainab Amanullah, gaza, mothers

Women are shy to tell you about this, but they don’t have to be shy actually. The world is not shy to let us to death for 62 days now [sic]…This was posted by Palestinian journalist Bisan Owda on her Instagram account last December. What she referred to as “a new suffering” was the absence of sanitary pads in the aid packages that are rarely able to enter Gaza.

Her video raised a poignant and often overlooked question: in the face of forced displacement, while leaving behind belongings, memories and dreams, how does one prioritise the essentials for survival? Is a monthly cycle tragically irrelevant when you don’t know if you’ll survive the next round of carpet bombing? What do you pack in that single bag?

A century-old curse of silence and taboo is haunting millions of women and girls of reproductive age in Gaza amidst the ongoing genocide. They are fighting yet another battle: to manage their menstruation with dignity. 

According to the United Nations, 700,000 women and girls in Gaza are grappling with the challenge of managing their menstrual cycles with little access to pads, toilets or clean water. With more than 1 million of them displaced, they are forced into cramped shelters with little to no privacy to manage their periods. They are faced with extremely unsanitary conditions as the strain on these facilities exacerbates an already dire lack of hygiene. 

Confronted with the unavailability of sanitary pads and tampons, Gazan women are resorting to makeshift solutions – using scraps from tents, re-using the same pad over and over, making strips from their headscarves, and worst of all, resorting to period-delaying pills that can cause harmful side effects. The genocide has brought an additional monthly horror for the women of Gaza, who to avoid embarrassment and shame, are silently opting for lifelong complications.

I kept thinking about the young girls who’ll be getting their first periods during the constant bombing. How will they ever make their peace with it? The turmoil their bodies are going through while their land is brutalised; the psychological and physical impact of this traumatic introduction to womanhood, marked by violence and fear, for some who are completely alone, without any adult to provide comfort or guidance, is horrifying to imagine. Period shame is heightened tenfold during a crisis. 

However, something has happened – women across the Global South, recognising the urgency of the situation, have rallied for this forgotten cause. This new sisterhood in the Global South has taken the lead, holding fundraising initiatives, driving digital advocacy campaigns and procuring these essential items. They are leaving no stone unturned for the women of Gaza to have their dignity. 

Despite the shadow banning and account disablement, social media has been a powerful ally. A post by Yasmina Benslimane, co-founder of Politics4Her, in collaboration with American Near East Refugee Aid (Anera) asking for funds to send dignity kits to Gaza, was a powerful invitation calling for immediate action. Being part of a period movement myself in Pakistan, called Mahwari Justice, I knew then that we must act. 

After establishing a channel to send dignity kits from Pakistan to Gaza, through our digital campaign we have been focused on educating the public on the necessity of including menstrual products in all aid efforts. The campaign is aimed at empowering individuals to contribute and act for this forgotten battle. Our dedicated young volunteers in Lahore rallied together and assembled 200 dignity kits. We remain steadfast in our commitment to send as many dignity kits as possible to Gaza.

Yasmina’s activism served as a beacon of courage for me, illuminating a path forward. Anera’s continuous brave efforts and unwavering commitment made me realise that we are enough in our own ways. Where Western feminism has failed miserably, from the ashes of its loss rises a new wave of feminism in the Global South. One that is going to take matters into its own hands and is no longer waiting for a white saviour to come to the rescue.

No woman should have to make the agonising choice between covering herself and using the same cloth to manage her periods. No woman should ever be forced to use period-stopping pills because she can’t access sanitary products. These are just further examples of their basic rights being cruelly stripped away by an apartheid regime.

Periods don’t stop during a genocide. For the sake of these 700,000 women and girls, we need to understand that period products are a necessity and must be part of every relief effort. Reluctance on our end spells catastrophe for Gazan women and girls. We must abandon this disastrous hesitation and while advocating for the dignity Gazan women deserve while menstruating, it’s our job to demand an end to the violence and to call for lasting peace. It’s time to act, to call for a ceasefire, to ensure that humanity prevails and no woman has to endure the indignity of period poverty ever again.


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