The devasting floods have killed at least 1,191 people in the country. Balochistan and Sindh are the most affected provinces of the country. Hundreds of thousands of people who were displaced by the floods since June are currently residing in camps or with host families.

As per an estimate, 8.2 million women in flood-affected areas are of reproductive age. Menstruating women in disaster-hit areas require access to safe and clean menstruation hygine products.

Many organisations are donating sanitary pads for women. However, a debate has been going around for days that whether sanitary pads should be donated or not. Some give the arguments that rural women do not use and do not know how to use sanitary pads, and donating them sanitary pads is a waste of already limited resources. While others give an argument that disposing of sanitary pads pollutes the environment.

RELATED STORIES

“One study has suggested that there may be an increased risk of urogenital infections, such as yeast infection, vaginosis or urinary tract infections, when women and girls are not able to bathe and/or change or clean their menstrual supplies regularly,” a report published by the United Nations Population Fund reads.

Here is the United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) Guide to Menstrual Hygiene Materials:

Pads are arguably the most widely used period product the sanitary pad/napkin has been commercially available for more than a century. They are worn inside the user’s underwear and absorb menstrual blood through layers of absorbent material, often rayon, cotton, and plastic. Pad design has changed over the decades to become considerably more absorbent and pleasant, with a wide selection available to suit different flows.

Talking about the arguments going around regarding the negative consequences of using disposable pads environment Lawyer Ahmad Rafay Alam while talking to The Current about the issues said, “Women are as entitled to their dignity as men. Screaming plastic pollution at a time like this is disingenuous at best. We can work out plastic pollution issues soon. Let’s first deal with the millions of women who menstruate.”

Dr Alia Haider, who is working for the relief of flood victims in Khyber Pakhtunkhwa (KP), while talking to The Current said that women in flood-affected areas do not have access to sanitary pads or the clothes they would normally use, as all of their belongings were completely destroyed.


Talking about the need of donating sanitary pads in flood-affected areas Haider said, “It would be very unfair to give women medicines but not sanitary pads,” adding that sanitary pads are not a luxury but a basic human need.

However, she said that donating sanitary pads is not enough, a tutorial about how to use them should be sent along or people distributing them should go and teach the flood-affected women.


“When I was working in medical camps in those areas, women came to me and said they don’t need it because they don’t know how to use them, then I used to take a group of 10 to 15 women in a room and used to teach them how to use sanitary pads. I made sure that they know that these are disposable.


She continued by adding, “We can also find and coordinate with women from those communities and backgrounds who know how to use sanitary pads and they can teach their fellow community members” So we need to connect with them on a community level.”


“When I was in Rajanpur, Taunsa, a woman did not know how to use sanitary pads so a guy came to me and said do get it to them. I asked the guy if he knows someone who knows how to use sanitary pads, to which the boy replied that his wife knows how to use them. Then I asked him to bring his wife, she knew how to use it and she offered that she would teach women in that community how to use sanitary pads.”


“We can’t sit idle and say oh my God that this is not the need of the time. Not maintaining menstrual hygiene can lead to many issues including Urinary tract infection (UTI), fungal infection, and prolonged use of clothing cause menorrhagia (excessive bleeding). During my visit to flood-affected areas, almost 60 to 70 per cent of women were suffering from Menorrhagia and other infections.”


She said that she does not think there is any other option than sanitary pads because even if they are provided with clothes, they will not have the resources to wash them or reuse them. Sanitary pads are accessible and disposable so they are the best option available according to Dr Alia’s assessment.

Where can you donate?

Bushra Mahnoor, who is leading a campaign called “Mahwari Justice” along with her friend Anum, while talking to The Current said that they started the campaign when the floods hit Pakistan at the end of June.

Mahwari is an Urdu word for Menstruation and Mahwari Justice means justice for women who menstruate and who are in dire need of menstrual assistance.

Talking about why she felt compelled to start the campaign, Bushra said,” I was a kid when the 2010 foods hit Pakistan. A lot of areas near my hometown Attock were flooded. My parents would collect goods and would take them to relief camps.”

Once when she went along with her parents to a relief camp, she saw a girl who was a year or two older than her. The girl’s shirt and shalwar (trousers) were spotted with large blood stains.

“My mother approached the girl and gave her a shawl to cover herself and a piece of clothing to use [as a pad]. The young girl explained to my mother that her periods started in the relief camp and she had nothing to use as a sanitary cloth. The girl was using her dupatta to manage periods but it was barely doing the job.”

“When floods hit Pakistan this year, the image of that little girl flashed into my mind and I knew I had to do something,” said Mahnoor.
She then contacted Anum and they both decided that they had to do something for the women in flood-affected areas.


“Women and their needs get neglected not only by the state but by relief campaigners as well.”

Mahnoor told The Current that Mahwari Justice is collecting sanitary napkins, cloth pads, cotton pads, underwear and sheets which they then donate to women in disaster-hit areas.

“There are many people who are saying that women in rural areas do not use sanitary pads. Why don’t they use sanitary pads? Because they do not have access to them and the critique is mostly coming from those who maybe have never used a cloth pad in their lives,” she stated.

Bushra comes from a lower-income background and for most of her life, she used a cloth pad.
“Do you even realise, how uncomfortable and how unhygienic and how itchy the cloth pads are?” she wondered, adding: “I had to use cloth pads because we did not have the resources to buy sanitary napkins. It was difficult to afford sanitary napkins for six people every month.”

Mahoor further said that she agrees that sanitary pads have many problems too, but she does not understand why people think it is okay to preach about climate impact when an urgent crisis has hit the country.

“Pakistan is only contributing one per cent to the global carbon emission and women in rural areas do not make even a fraction of that one per cent.” She said she doesn’t understand why people are so worried about the waste that will be generated.

Anum Khalid, who started this campaign with Mahnoor while talking to The Current said, “If a flood victim is thirsty and you are giving them water in a plastic bottle, does that not harm the environment?”.

She continued by saying, “Bushra and I started this campaign to provide immediate relief to women or other menstruators from the issues they face from continuous bleeding.”

United Nations (UN)’s report on Guide to Menstrual Hygiene products suggests that consultation should be done on what products women are comfortable using because different materials and products are utilised for this purpose.

ADVERTISEMENT

Anam said that they now send information about how to use sanitary pads along with their sanitary kits. They are also providing cloth pads for women in the areas where women ask for them because of their cultural preferences.

She continued by adding that our volunteers are teaching women in rural areas in their own language how to correctly use sanitary napkins.

She concluded by saying that the debate about whether something is a luxury or a basic need in times of crisis was tragic. “Our justice campaign, I believe, is helping to change the belief that sanitary pads are luxury,” she stressed.