Lack of hygiene products pushes Gaza women to dangerous alternatives

United Nations Population Fund says 690,000 women and adolescent girls have limited access to sanitary items

Doctors expressed concern at the effects the lack of personal sanitary products will have on the women in Gaza. AFP
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Women in Gaza are struggling to find sanitary products in the war-torn enclave, resorting to unconventional alternatives that doctors say pose significant health risks.

Supermarkets and pharmacies in the coastal enclave have run out of essential sanitary items after 10 weeks of siege, war, and relentless bombing by the Israeli army.

Ola Sameh, 38, was forced to resort to other means. "I used the diapers of my baby," she told the National.

She had stockpiled pads, but the war lasted longer than expected.

"At the beginning, the baby's diapers were in trace amounts, but when aid entered Gaza during the ceasefire days, they brought diapers, but they didn't bring pads."

As Israel's campaign in Gaza has gathered pace, the humanitarian situation in the besieged enclave has worsened dramatically. The United Nations and other world bodies have repeatedly warned of severe shortages of food, clean water and medicines.

A drop in the bucket

A limited number of aid lorries have managed to enter the Gaza Strip through Egypt after being forced into a holding pattern. On Sunday, the Kerem Shalom crossing between Israel and Gaza opened for aid lorries for the first time since the outbreak of war on October 7.

But the aid is not bringing in enough sanitary products.

Mahmoud Musalem, who works in one of the pharmacies in the centre of Gaza, said that birth-control pills and women's pads have been unavailable for a month.

He said that his pharmacy tried contacting the suppliers "to bring more, but they said they're unavailable".

According to the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA), more than 690,000 women and adolescent girls in Gaza have limited access to menstrual hygiene products in addition to inadequate water, hygiene, and privacy. This puts them at risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections," the fund said this month.

"We are aware of the scarcity and lack of sanitary napkins. We distribute napkins ourselves, but like everything else we distribute, it is a drop in the bucket," Tamara Alrifai, the UN Palestinian Refugee Agency (UNRWA) spokesperson, told The National.

The International Committee of the Red Cross, ICRC, has also distributed hygiene kits in central Gaza but it is not enough to meet the needs of women.

“Within these hygiene kits, there's sanitary pads and items, dignity items that are specific for women. We know that this is only a small amount of relief," Stephen Ryan, ICRC's Rapid deployment coordinator, told The National.

Women lack access to the basics such as water and being able to go to the bathroom, he said.

“This is making life extremely difficult for women and it's something that makes it very hard for women to maintain their dignity,” Mr Ryan said as he is currently in Gaza.

Noor Al Najjar, an activist who tries to help people by providing them with what they need, from food to medical kits to blankets, said that she and her colleagues are preparing "emergency packages" for women, but were unable to find pads to include.

"Most of the aid that entered Gaza didn't include the pads, and if they succeeded in bringing some aid, it was in small amounts," she added.

Several women are resorting to alternative methods, such as using small towels and washing them. The problem, however, persists with the lack of washing water.

Using these alternative methods also carries a risk of causing blood clots, bleeding, or an irregular menstrual cycle, Dr Islam Abu Samara, an obstetrician and gynaecologist in Nasser Hospital in Khan Younis city told The National.

"Women have come to ask for sanitary products because they can’t find them, and some of them use alternative methods, especially women who are in maternity" and have given birth recently. "But this could impact them negatively and result in infections," the Palestinian doctor said.

“Difficulties in getting access to clean water could also increase infection and diseases," she added.

Desperation from lack of sanitary supplies has pushed some women to appeal for donations on social media.

Bissan Aouda, a journalist and blogger, said that the shortage of sanitary pads in the Gaza Strip negatively affected women psychologically.

"It makes her feel ashamed because she can't say that she needs pads because, in our society, this topic is so sensitive, and people don't discuss it publicly," Ms Aouda told The National.

Updated: December 21, 2023, 8:23 AM