Periods don’t stop for floods, so why do we forget the menstruators?

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In a society where people think menstruation is “dirty” and a “women’s issue”, two young women are committed to changing the conversation. Mahwari Justice, a student-led grassroots movement in Pakistan, is working to ensure that periods do not become an additional burden for those affected by floods.

The organization was founded by two young students, Bushra Mahnoor and Anum Khalid, who are passionate about helping women in the flood stricken areas get access to menstrual health products. The group is distributing menstrual hygiene kits to those affected by the disaster, containing essential items like sanitary pads, soap, detergent, and underwear.

According to UNFPA estimates, more 650,000 women located in flood-affected areas in Pakistan are or will be in need of access to maternal health services. In times of crisis, the struggles of women are often magnified and climate change-induced displacement disproportionately impacts women from impoverished households.

A recent report by CARE International states that existing gender inequality often intersects with other vulnerabilities, resulting in limited access to resources and decision-making power for women and girls. This lack of access inhibits their capacity to withstand the impacts of climate change, access essential services, and recover from climate-related disasters. 

Factors such as poverty, inadequate healthcare infrastructure, and financial dependence exacerbate their situation. These factors can result in unhealthy conditions before and after periods, due to the absence of clean water and proper food, leading to the spread of diseases like diarrhea, typhoid, and dysentery. Moreover, consuming contaminated water may cause skin diseases. Menstruating individuals face additional challenges in managing their periods, often resorting to unhygienic resources like used clothes, rags, or sand, which can further increase the risk of disease and skin problems.

“It was extremely difficult to send in the menstrual pads to these women in the flood stricken areas because men who were in charge of relief kits, didn’t want to include these products during distribution” says Bushra, the co-founder of Mahawari Justice. In South Asia, including Pakistan, the subject of menstruation is still shrouded in taboo and is frequently hushed or not talked about openly.

This cultural mindset is deeply entrenched, passed down from generation to generation and women and girls who menstruate are often made to feel ashamed or embarrassed about a perfectly normal biological function. The absence of education and open discussion about menstruation results in limited access to appropriate menstrual hygiene products, perpetuating a vicious cycle of shame and discomfort. Nevertheless, in recent years, there has been a growing movement to break the taboo and raise awareness about menstrual health and rights.

For both Anum and Bushra, sustainability both in terms of infrastructure but also reintegration of the displaced women back into the society is of huge importance given the patriarchal nature of the society. Which is why, in addition to providing relief, Mahwari Justice is also advocating for more sustainable menstrual options. The organization is committed to minimizing its carbon footprint and is encouraging the use of environmentally friendly menstrual products. By working on both relief efforts and sustainability, Mahwari Justice is making a positive impact on the lives of those affected by the floods while also promoting a better future.