How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps

Special How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps
Syrian women walk during a sandstorm near at a temporary refugee camp in the village of Ain Issa. (AFP/File)
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Updated 07 June 2023
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How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps

How neglect of health and hygiene issues deepens gender inequality in Middle East displacement camps
  • Poor access to hygiene products impacts the lives of millions in the world’s conflict and crisis zones
  • Camp overcrowding “can lead to a lack of dignity and privacy, which can also impact mental health”

LONDON: Every month, women and girls living in camps for displaced people face a common challenge — one that, despite being a natural occurrence, disrupts their daily lives in everything from queuing for meals to participating in social life.

Long a relatively neglected health issue, aid agencies say that poor access to menstrual hygiene management products impacts the lives of millions in the world’s crisis-hit regions, deepening gender inequality.

“The lack of access to menstrual hygiene products and facilities can be a significant barrier to the participation of displaced women and girls in training programs and other activities,” said Samara Atassi, CEO and co-founder of Souriyat Across Borders, a women-led charity that supports refugees and internally displaced people in Jordan, Syria and the UK.

Insufficient access to such products and facilities often forces women and girls to resort to “unhygienic practices, such as using dirty rags, leaves or even sand to manage their periods,” Atassi told Arab News.

Social stigma and embarrassment often pose an additional challenge, leading to “isolation and a sense of shame,” taking a toll on their mental wellbeing, she said. Overcrowding in camps in particular “can lead to a lack of dignity and privacy, which can also impact their mental health.” 

Further exacerbating the problem are issues such as inadequate access to clean water, sanitation and hygiene facilities. 




A woman sits outside a tent at a camp for those displaced by conflict in the countryside near Syria’s northern city of Raqqa. (AFP/File)

These conditions “can make it difficult to manage menstrual hygiene, further increasing the risk of infections and other health problems,” Sahar Yassin, Oxfam MENA regional gender advocacy adviser, told Arab News.

“Period poverty” is defined as a lack of access to menstrual products, education, hygiene facilities, waste management, or a combination of these.

In 2019, experts from academic institutions, NGOs, governments, UN organizations and elsewhere came together to form the Global Menstrual Collective to research the issue. It defined menstrual health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity, in relation to the menstrual cycle.”

It noted that people should have access to information about menstruation, life changes and hygiene practices, the ability to care for themselves during menstruation, as well as access to water, sanitation and hygiene services.

It also highlighted the importance of the ability to receive a diagnosis for menstrual cycle disorders and access to health care, a positive, supportive environment in which to make informed decisions, and the ability to participate in all aspects of life, such as going to work and school.

Period poverty affects an estimated 500 million people worldwide — but is perhaps more keenly felt by those who have been forcibly displaced from their homes, or those reaching puberty while living in overcrowded and poorly equipped camp settings.

The UN Refugee Agency estimates that women and girls account for about 50 percent of any displaced or stateless population.

At the end of 2021, the Middle East and North Africa accounted for about 16 million forcibly displaced and stateless people, with the largest numbers fleeing conflict in Syria and Yemen, according to the UNHCR figures.

However, the reproductive health of women and girls in refugee and internal displacement camps continues to face neglect by donors. A 2019 survey by UNHCR found that just 55 percent of women’s needs were met with regard to menstruation products.

Nicola Banks, advocacy manager at the UK-based charity Action for Humanity, told Arab News that the UK had recently reduced “funding for its flagship program on sexual and reproductive health, Women’s Integrated Sexual Health,” which supports marginalized populations in Asia and Africa.

“Cuts to SRHR (sexual and reproductive health and rights) programs ... could result in reduced access to menstrual hygiene products, education and reproductive health services, potentially exacerbating period poverty,” Banks said.




A displaced Iraqi woman who fled Mosul sits with her child as they wait to enter Syria. (AFP/File)

During humanitarian crises, relief and aid efforts are chiefly focused on what are considered the most immediate needs — food, shelter and medicine — while menstrual hygiene products are often ignored, according to a report published in September 2022 by the UN sexual and reproductive health agency, UNFPA.

Another critical challenge to menstrual hygiene management is a lack of education, which can lead to misconceptions about menstruation, further perpetuating stigma and shame, said Atassi of Souriyat Across Borders.

Owing to this pervasive sense of stigma and shame, many girls aged 10-18 in refugee camps in Turkiye continue to have limited access to accurate information about menstruation, meaning few are fully informed before reaching menarche, or the first menstrual cycle, according to the UNFPA report.

The study, “Menstrual hygiene management among refugee women and girls in Turkiye,” emphasized that this important yet vulnerable population lacked a complete and accurate conception of menstruation, with the main source of information being the mother or another female family member.

FASTFACT

55%

A 2019 UNHCR study found that only 55 percent of women’s needs were met in regard to menstruation products.

Oxfam’s Yassin says that this lack of education, combined with period poverty, “is closely linked to gender-based violence in the MENA region, where the cultural taboo surrounding menstruation precludes women and girls from discussing it openly, leading to misinformation and/or lack of information.”

Forms of gender-based violence, or GBV, linked to menstruation include “early marriage, lack of privacy, safety, and sexual harassment,” she said.

To conceal evidence of their menstruation, women in displacement and refugee camps often find themselves forced to venture alone to secluded areas, which exposes them to the potential for sexual violence. But the threat is also present in toilet spaces inside the camps.

A 2021 statement by Filippo Grandi, the UN high commissioner for refugees, revealed that “one in five refugees or internally displaced women have faced sexual violence,” adding that the COVID-19 pandemic aggravated the issue.




Syrian-Kurdish displaced women stand behind a wire fence at the Qushtapa refugee camp. (AFP/File)

“In many cases, GBV is a result of violations of SRHR, such as female genital mutilation/cutting, child marriage, intimate partner violence and non-partner sexual violence,” said Banks of Action for Humanity.

“While education, empowerment, and ending violence are critical components of gender equality, they cannot be addressed in isolation from SRHR.”

For Oxfam’s Yassin, “by addressing period poverty and providing better menstrual hygiene management infrastructure and accessible facilities, we can not only promote gender equality and prevent gender-based violence but also support women’s and girls’ health, economic empowerment and well-being.”

Despite efforts by several NGOs and UN agencies to alleviate the burdens caused by period stigma and poverty, menstrual hygiene management remains a largely unaddressed issue in refugee and displacement camps.

“As an organization that is committed to empowering women, we recognize the importance of providing comprehensive sexual education,” said Atassi of Souriyat Across Borders. “Unfortunately, we currently do not have an education project inside the IDPs camps. 

“However, we strive to support women’s health and hygiene needs through all our relief campaigns.

“Even in the emergency response situations, such as during the (Feb. 6 Syria-Turkiye) earthquakes ... we prioritized the inclusion of women’s hygiene baskets in our relief efforts.

“We believe that by addressing women’s basic needs, we can help them feel supported, safe and empowered.”


Lebanese army says it exchanged tear gas, smoke bomb fire with Israel

Lebanese army says it exchanged tear gas, smoke bomb fire with Israel
Updated 23 September 2023
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Lebanese army says it exchanged tear gas, smoke bomb fire with Israel

Lebanese army says it exchanged tear gas, smoke bomb fire with Israel
  • “Elements of the Israeli enemy violated the withdrawal line and fired smoke bombs at a Lebanese army patrol,” the Lebanese army said
  • The Israeli military said it was Lebanon that started the violence

CAIRO: Lebanon’s army said it fired tear gas at Israeli forces over the border on Saturday in response to smoke bombs fired at its troops, though Israel said Lebanon started the confrontation.
Tensions have flared along the frontier this summer, with rockets fired at Israel during flare-ups of Israeli-Palestinian violence, and members of the heavily armed Lebanese group Hezbollah or its supporters facing off with Israeli forces.
“Elements of the Israeli enemy violated the withdrawal line and fired smoke bombs at a Lebanese army patrol that was accompanying a bulldozer removing an earthen berm erected by the Israeli enemy north of the withdrawal line, the blue line, in the Bastra area,” the Lebanese army said in a statement.
The current demarcation line between the two countries is known as the Blue Line, a frontier mapped by the United Nations that marks the line to which Israeli forces withdrew when they left south Lebanon in 2000.
“The Lebanese patrol responded to the attack by firing tear bombs ... forcing them to withdraw to the occupied Palestinian territories,” Lebanon’s army added.
The Israeli military said it was Lebanon that started the violence.
“A short while ago, IDF soldiers spotted an engineering vehicle’s shovel crossing the Blue Line from Lebanon into Israeli territory in the area of Mount Dov,” a statement from the military said. “In response, IDF soldiers used riot dispersal means.”
“The vehicle returned to Lebanese territory,” the military said.
UNIFIL, the UN peacekeeping force in the area, said there had been tension on Saturday.
“UNIFIL is in touch with the parties to decrease tensions and prevent a misunderstanding. At the moment we are on the ground, monitoring the situation and trying to bring calm back to the area,” spokesperson Andrea Tenenti said.


Lebanon rescues Syrians in sinking migrant boat

Lebanon rescues Syrians in sinking migrant boat
Updated 23 September 2023
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Lebanon rescues Syrians in sinking migrant boat

Lebanon rescues Syrians in sinking migrant boat
  • A military official, who requested anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to the press, told AFP the migrants were all Syrian
  • Migrants seeking to reach Europe from Lebanon generally head for the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus 175 kilometers away

BEIRUT: The Lebanese military on Saturday rescued 27 Syrian migrants from drowning after their rubber boat capsized off the country’s northern coast, the armed forces said.
The navy, with support from the civil defense, “was able to rescue 27 illegal migrants aboard a rubber boat that was sinking off the Chekka coast,” an army statement said.
A military official, who requested anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to the press, told AFP the migrants were all Syrian.
Migrants seeking to reach Europe from Lebanon generally head for the east Mediterranean island of Cyprus 175 kilometers (110 miles) away.
Also on Saturday, security forces said they arrested a Lebanese people smuggler and 42 Syrians as he was in a vehicle “filled with a large number of Syrians.”
Police said the driver confessed planning to smuggle them by boat to Cyprus.
The would-be migrants said during questioning they had paid between $5,000 and $7,000 a head to reach Europe via Cyprus, the statement added.
“We have been trying to stop them on land before they leave by sea,” a security source told AFP, again requesting anonymity as he was not allowed to speak to journalists.
On Thursday, the army said it had prevented around 1,000 illegal crossings of Lebanon’s porous border with Syria this week.
The military regularly thwarts smuggling operations by sea and arrests both smugglers and would-be migrants.
Lebanon’s economy collapsed in late 2019, turning the country into a launchpad for migrants, with Lebanese joining Syrians and Palestinian refugees making perilous voyages toward Europe.
The authorities in Beirut say Lebanon currently hosts around two million Syrians, while more than 800,000 are registered with the United Nations — the world’s highest number of refugees per capita.
The war in Syria that erupted in 2011 after the government repressed peaceful pro-democracy protests has killed more than half a million people and displaced around half of the pre-war population.


GCC, UK urge Iraq to complete demarcation of borders with Kuwait

GCC, UK urge Iraq to complete demarcation of borders with Kuwait
Updated 23 September 2023
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GCC, UK urge Iraq to complete demarcation of borders with Kuwait

GCC, UK urge Iraq to complete demarcation of borders with Kuwait

DUBAI: The foreign ministers of the Gulf Cooperation Council member states and UK Secretary of State James Cleverly have urged Iraq to complete the demarcation of Kuwaiti-Iraqi maritime borders.

In a joint statement released Friday, the officials urged Iraq to respect international agreements, especially regarding the demarcation of Kuwaiti-Iraq borders.

The statement followed a meeting between Cleverly and GCC Secretary-General James Al-Budawi on the sidelines of the 78th session of the UN General Assembly in New York.

“They underlined the importance of Iraq’s commitment to Kuwait’s sovereignty and territorial integrity,” according to a joint statement published on KUNA news agency.

Tensions have been rising between Kuwait and Iraq after the Iraqi Federal Supreme Court earlier this month ruled an agreement regulating navigation in the Khor Abdullah waterway was unconstitutional. The court said the law that ratified the accord should have been approved by two-thirds of Parliament.

Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sheikh Jarrah Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah met the UN Baron Tariq Ahmad, and EU Deputy Secretary-General Enrique Mora. (KUNA)

Kuwait’s Deputy Foreign Minister Sheikh Jarrah Jaber Al-Ahmad Al-Sabah has discussed with UN officials and Western diplomats the latest Iraqi Supreme Court verdict regarding Khor Abdullah.

Sheikh Jarrah met Thursday the German Minister of State Tobias Lindner, UK Minister of State for the Middle East, North Africa, South Asia and the UN Baron Tariq Ahmad, and EU Deputy Secretary-General Enrique Mora.

The land border between the two was demarcated by the UN in 1993 after Iraq’s invasion of Kuwait, but it did not cover the length of their maritime boundaries, which was left for the two oil producers to resolve.

An agreement between the two nations was reached in 2012 and ratified by each of their legislative bodies in 2013.


Iraqi PM will visit Russia in the next few weeks — statement

Iraqi PM will visit Russia in the next few weeks — statement
Updated 23 September 2023
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Iraqi PM will visit Russia in the next few weeks — statement

Iraqi PM will visit Russia in the next few weeks — statement

BAGHDAD: Iraqi Prime Minister Mohammed Shia Al-Sudani will visit Moscow in the next few weeks, an Iraqi foreign ministry statement quoted Foreign Minister Fuad Hussein as saying during a meeting with Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov on the sidelines of the UN General Assembly in New York.


Bahrain making progress on human rights, says FM

Bahrain making progress on human rights, says FM
Updated 23 September 2023
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Bahrain making progress on human rights, says FM

Bahrain making progress on human rights, says FM
  • Bahrain signed the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement with the US last week
  • Bahraini minister stressed the importance of diplomatic and economic cooperation between countries

NEW YORK CITY: Bahrain has grown immensely in diplomatic cooperation, human rights, tolerance, and social progress, Bahraini Minister of Foreign Affairs Abdullatif Al-Zayani said on Friday.

The minister referenced the signing of the Comprehensive Security Integration and Prosperity Agreement between the US and Bahrain, signed last week, which will enhance coordination between the two countries in defense, security, technology and investment.

Al-Zayani stressed the importance of dialogue and good-neighborliness in the approach to settling international disputes, a peace process supporting an independent Palestinian state, and the solution of conflicts in Yemen, Syria, Afghanistan, Lebanon and Sudan “in a way that preserves the unity, sovereignty and territorial integrity of these countries.”

Al-Zayani also called for the implementation of international conventions “to criminalize religious, sectarian and racial hate speech. We must prevent the misuse of ‘freedoms’ in media and digital platforms for religious contempt or to incite extremism, terrorism and intolerance.”

Cooperation in security, nonproliferation of weapons of mass destruction, cybercrime and international navigation was critical, he added.

On economic cooperation, the minister welcomed the announcement of the India-Middle East-Europe Economic corridor, which was unveiled during the G20 summit in New Delhi this year. The corridor is to connect India with Europe via the UAE, Saudi Arabia, Jordan, Israel and Greece.

Al-Zayani also praised Saudi Arabia for announcing earlier this month the establishment of a global water organization to be based in Riyadh.

The minister discussed many of his country’s recent strides in ensuring human rights, including the creation of an impartial, independent judiciary supported by international human rights experts, promotion of the freedom of press and media, encouragement of trade unions, and criminal justice and corrections reform.

“The Kingdom of Bahrain is proud of the advancement of women, and her contribution as active partner in the process of comprehensive development. She is a minister, a parliamentarian, a judge and ambassador,” he said, adding that Bahraini women made up 22 percent of the cabinet, 56 percent of the workforce in the government sector, and 34 percent of the diplomatic corps.