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  For Syrian women under siege, a special struggle: Their periods

For Syrian women under siege, a special struggle: Their periods

AFP | MAYA GEBEILY
Published : Oct 30, 2016, 6:22 am IST
Updated : Oct 30, 2016, 6:22 am IST

Like many women, Huda dreads her menstrual period every month. But it isn’t simply inconvenient or painful: She lives under siege near Syria’s Damascus, without sanitary pads or even clean water.

Like many women, Huda dreads her menstrual period every month. But it isn’t simply inconvenient or painful: She lives under siege near Syria’s Damascus, without sanitary pads or even clean water.

“When feminine products started to become rare in 2012, I had a really hard time,” says the 23-year-old from Saqba, a rebel-held town in the battered Eastern Ghouta area, which has been besieged since 2013. Speaking to AFP using a pseudonym, Ms Huda says the very few female hygiene products available in Saqba are too expensive for her and her husband.

 

“So I had to make do with old cloth,” she says. “But I started getting a lot of infections, so I decided to buy just a few sanitary pads and use one per day so I didn’t go through them quickly.” Reusing pads has led to fungal infections, kidney pains, and vaginal and urinary tract problems, Ms Huda says. “I’m trying to get treatment, but it’s going so slow” because of the cost of proper medication.

More than 860,000 people live under siege across war-ravaged Syria, facing shortages of food, water, diesel, and other vital goods. But women in besieged areas face the additional challenge of struggling each month with limited access to pads as well as clean water, leading to sometimes serious gynaecological complications caused by poor hygiene. Openly discussing menstrual cycles is taboo across much of Syria, and many of the women who spoke to AFP asked to be identified by a pseudonym.

 

Aid groups say they include sanitary pads in health packages delivered to besieged areas, but their access to these areas is sporadic and what they can deliver falls far short of needs, women say.

The UN children’s agency says it has delivered 84,000 hygiene packs — each including 10 pads — to hard-to-reach and besieged locations across Syria in 2016, up from 17,000 in 2015.

But if even just a third of the 860,000 Syrians under siege were women of menstruating age, they would need more than 10 million sanitary pads per year. Laila Bakry, who heads the women’s centre for Eastern Ghouta, says pads are hard to find or too expensive there. During their period, many women resort to what Ms Bakry calls “the traditional method” — reusing old rags. But they struggle to clean the fabric because “there’s often no water and, if there is, it’s hard to boil it because there’s no electricity or gas”.

 

Aid groups involved in deliveries say cultural considerations have prevented them from examining the health complications caused by the absence of feminine hygiene products.

Location: Lebanon, Beirut