Menstrual health education is a priority for young girls in Lebanon’s refugee camps – Lebanon

Anera’s awareness program helps girls take better control of their own health needs

Lebanon is experiencing a public health crisis that has resulted in a shortage of medicines and medical supplies. Although many do not see menstrual health as a priority, the soaring cost of appropriate menstrual hygiene products and the lack of menstrual education are a priority concern for women, who make up half of the 7.8 million inhabitants of Lebanon. Ironically, in 2020, the all-male Lebanese firm compiled a list of 300 items to subsidize on the market, but did not include menstrual pads despite men’s razors being on the list.

The lack of menstrual health products has caused women and girls to resort to unhealthy coping practices, such as using newspapers, tissues, rags, or the same sanitary napkin for days on end. Lebanon’s economic crisis has exacerbated the problem, especially in Lebanon’s impoverished and overcrowded Palestinian refugee camps.

So-called “period poverty” is humiliating for women who should have control over something as personal as their period. “Menstrual poverty” is defined as the lack of access to sanitary products, a safe and hygienic place to use them, and the right to manage menstruation without shame or stigma. The price of menstrual products in Lebanon increased tenfold as the economy deteriorated.

Access to knowledge and information on menstrual safety and personal hygiene is also of the utmost importance for women’s health and, by extension, for public health in general.

To solve this problem, the public health team of Anera organized a series of menstrual hygiene activities within the framework of the project “Communities in action in power”, financed by UNICEF. Anera organized awareness sessions in schools located in five major Palestinian refugee camps across Lebanon, including Nahr El Bared, Beddawi, Burj El Barajneh, Shatila and Ein El Hilweh.

The program included information and awareness sessions for girls aged 12 to 16 and the distribution of “My Body-My Health” information kits to 3,000 girls. The kits were donated by the German Development Bank (KFW). Anera daily workers trained in youth and hygiene promotion provided instruction on time management, good hygiene practices, pain management, healthy diets and well-being general.

Souad Suleiman is the principal of Al-Mazar Girls’ Middle School in the Palestinian refugee camp of Beddawi. She believes that the awareness sessions are essential for mothers who cannot provide their daughters with all the health and scientific knowledge. She says one of the goals of the awareness sessions is to break the cycle of misinformation and debunk myths that are passed down from generation to generation. “One of the problems we faced before these sessions was that the girls weren’t taught to count the days of their menstrual cycle to know the approximate date of the start of their period.” Souad says young girls were shocked or fearful about their condition because of the lack of menstrual awareness and preparation.

Souad also echoed other educators who highlighted the positive impact of the kits, especially given the skyrocketing cost of menstrual supplies during Lebanon’s economic crisis. “We have discovered that many of our students are forced to use the same tampon for a long time or other unhealthy practices because they cannot afford to buy them.” In addition to informative materials, the kits also include sanitary pads, soap, socks, underwear and even a solar lamp for use during power outages.

Sarah Saad, 13, lives in Beddawi camp. She was thrilled to get a kit and learn a lot about her period and menstrual health. She says she is confident now that it will be easier to manage. “I haven’t had my period yet, but I learned from this session what a menstrual cycle is and how to manage my period. And most importantly, I learned not to be ashamed or afraid. I think every girl should know as much as possible about it.”

Lina Al-Omari is an 11-year-old Palestinian refugee living in Beddawi camp. She wants to become a veterinarian when she grows up. Right now though, she’s a little worried about her period and what to expect. “One of the weirdest rumors I’ve heard is that you need to stop eating pickles and citrus or even take a shower on your period. Now I know that’s nonsense!”

Sima Abed Al Kader is a 12-year-old student at Quibya school in Ein El Hilweh camp. She just got her period. Like many girls, she didn’t know the difference between menstruation and the menstrual cycle. The sessions made it possible to clarify things. “I learned why it is so important for every girl to have a monthly cycle calendar. I learned how to calculate when my period will occur. Now I can prepare myself in advance, which is important in this situation tough economy.”

“I loved my kit,” says Sima. “What I liked the most were the soaps. They smell good and the dab set is very useful.”

Thanks to Anera’s awareness program, Lina and girls like her now understand that menstruation is a natural function of a woman’s body and is nothing to worry about when managed in a healthy way. Moreover, the health kits they have received provide them with the items they need without financial intervention from their families.

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