Seven governmental officials met in Beirut’s Grand Serail last Friday to discuss and approve a list of subsidized products that will remain unaffected by Lebanon’s economic turmoil. Out of the 300 products selected to be subsidized, the politicians excluded women’s sanitary pads despite the increase in period poverty as the prices of hygienic products rose by up to 500 percent in recent months.
Instead of pads, the all-men team included razors on the list of subsidized goods. The former is essential for the health and wellbeing of women, while the latter is not.
Many women now see disposable sanitary pads as a luxury, forced either to unhygienically reuse them or forgo them in favour of unsafe alternatives like crumbled cardboard or newspapers. The unsanitary latter increases the risk of infections.
With pads growing more expensive by the day, supermarkets’ recent decision to ration their supplies means that women have been unable to stockpile sanitary products before their prices further skyrocket.
Day after day, the Lebanese government tells the women of this country that it does not see, hear or care for them. In light of this recent neglect and to provide women with some form of support during these troubled times, Beirut Today has compiled a list of sanitary products that can be substituted for one-use pads.
While we do recognize that some of these options may not be accessible to all segments of the population, we feel it is still necessary to shed light on the available methods.
To understand the menstrual hygiene products available to women, Beirut Today spoke with The A Project, a platform aimed at creating discussions around sexuality and mental health in an age when these topics are still perceived to be taboo.
The A Project member Sarah Kaddoura cited simple cotton cloths as one traditional menstrual hygiene product used by older generations. The cloth remains in use today by women who have no access to disposable pads or tampons, but the main downside of it is that period blood may spill onto one’s clothing.
A popular trend in recent years across the world has been reusable pads, which like the cloth, are an effective means of protection without the worry of leakage.
These cloth pads, made primarily of cotton or hemp, can be substituted for everyday disposable menstrual products such as tampons or regular pads. They are capable of absorbing menstrual blood for around 4-5 hours, depending on your own flow.
Perhaps the most attractive feature of reusable pads is their accessibility: They can be both purchased and made from the comfort of one’s own home. Available stencils and diagrams are widely available over the internet, and they can be cared for with a few simple instructions.
The pads need to be made with a holder to keep the pad safely placed on your underwear. They may also have an optional adjustable band that can be wrapped around the waist, so it stays in place for longer.
To guarantee the durability of the pad, they must be regularly washed and sanitized so that all remaining residue is removed before usage again.
While there are benefits to this product, there are also a few downsides. Washing the cloth may prove tricky at times and will in turn consume more of your time and effort, as will drying the pad. When traveling or on-the-go, you will also have to carry an extra bag to store your used pads in.
Menstrual cups are eco-friendly, reusable feminine hygiene products. They’re a small, flexible and funnel shaped rubber or silicone cup inserted into your vagina for the collection of period blood.
Many of the misconceptions surrounding these menstrual cups primarily come from a religious or social standpoint. Accordingly, this method is more popular amongst married women, despite the fact that they are cost-effective and eco-friendly in the long run.
Some fear that using the cup may break their hymen and therefore result in a loss of their virginity. Contrary to these popular beliefs, this belief is unfactual and the cup is free of this risk.
One current seller of the menstrual cup in Lebanon is @juniperleb on Instagram. Given the information on their Instagram page, they deliver menstrual products all over Lebanon and have guides on the benefits of menstrual cups and how to use them. Additionally, Kaddoura states that the cups can also be found in a few stores in Beirut at a low cost.
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One of the benefits of menstrual cups is that they come in a wide range of sizes, making them accessible to everyone. They are also made with a multitude of factors in consideration, such as age, cervix length, flow, firmness and flexibility of cup, and if you’ve ever given birth vaginally. They are known to hold blood longer than other methods, as they can be worn for 6 to 12 hours.
The cups should be thoroughly cared for throughout usage. They need to be washed and wiped clean before being reinserted into your vagina and must be regularly sanitized to avoid infections.
This type of underwear is specifically designed to replace menstrual products such as pads and tampons. They are washable and reusable, and can be worn with tampons or menstrual cups for added protection.
The look and feel of these panties are the same as that of your everyday underwear, except they are made with added layers of fabric to absorb period blood while keeping the wearer free.
These products can be purchased from a myriad of brands online, or can again be made at home. The tailoring may prove tricky, but this method is incredibly accessible and cost-efficient on the long-term.
Dawrati: Spreading menstrual products across the country
For the women who can no longer afford any menstrual product whatsoever, Dawrati is slowly working on ending period poverty by giving women access to essential menstrual products.
Started by two full-time working women, Line Masri and Rana Haddad, Dawrati is a donation-based service that collects menstrual products and delivers them to appropriate non-governmental organizations (NGOs).
Their Instagram page regularly displays drop-off locations for those that wish to donate, before the products are delivered to the NGOs. These NGOs in turn distribute the sanitary products to different areas where they are needed, such as in Tripoli and Saida.
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In an interview with Beirut Today, founder Line Masri stated that at the current time, they are helping around 200 women per week, which she says is still a very low number.
Since they’ve launched the service, the amount of donations has gradually decreased as the price of menstrual products remain in fluctuation due to the current socioeconomic situation.
The organization also faces difficulties in relation to time, as Masri and her co-worker Haddad work full-time jobs, maintain their personal and home lives, and devote time to work on Dawrati whenever they’re free.
However, they have plans for the expansion of the service post-coronavirus pandemic and are working towards recruiting more volunteers for a variety of new branches.
In the near future, we can expect Dawrati to work in coordination with other local organizations to hold workshops, awareness campaigns, and start conversations on how to dismantle the stigma relating to period poverty.
Fighting Period Poverty
In moving forward, The A Project’s Sarah Kaddoura finds that the solution is not for individuals to seek alternative hygiene products but to continually exert pressure on the government to subsidize the price of these products.
Yet while individuals struggle to band together, the government continues to declare itself absent with regards to this issue. In such a case, Kaddoura cites non-governmental organizations and grassroots feminist groups as the solution for this impediment.
Kaddoura says that the re-allocation of funds within these organizations in the coming months could be an essential pillar to combating period poverty. By reallocating funds, these organizations will be capable of collecting menstrual products and redistributing them to different areas, as Dawrati is now doing.
With organizations primarily being based in Beirut, Kaddoura says that this may pose a challenge for them in reaching out to other areas in the country.
Now more than ever, it is essential to reflect on how individuals will be affected by the economic crisis and ask ourselves which areas are in dire need of our help. The focus must be distributed not only across the main cities, but also towards refugee camps and villages, whose residents are those most affected by this crisis.