Period Poverty in Lebanon: Breaking the Cycle

Period poverty in Lebanon has been skyrocketing ever since the economic turmoil and subsequent healthcare system weakening, where the price of sanitary products has been subjected to a 500% increase, thus almost preventing 66% of adolescent girls from being able to purchase the products to manage their cycles with dignity and wellness.

Ghiwa Nasser Eddine, IWG EMR Alum

Ensuring good menstrual health entails securing access to all menstrual resources in a safe and healthy space. These resources might include information, sanitation facilities, non-judgmental and supportive environments, supplies and products, and more. It is worth noting that menstrual products are limited to pads, cups, tampons, underwear, and pain medication. The financial burden that comes from having to routinely buy menstrual supplies causes all people who menstruate to be exposed to increased economic vulnerability. This struggle is experienced by many low-income individuals while trying to afford these supplies, and that is known as period poverty. The United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) has indicated “financial vulnerability” for period poverty to be president in developing countries passing through economic crises. Lebanon is an example of the latter, where the Lebanese lira has lost more than 15% of its value since the start of 2022, contributing to almost 82% of the population suffering from multiple disadvantages at the same time also known as living in multidimensional poverty that is related to income, services, education, and health. 

Photo by Šárka Hyková on Unsplash

Period poverty in Lebanon has been skyrocketing ever since the economic turmoil and subsequent healthcare system weakening, where the price of sanitary products has been subjected to a 500% increase, thus almost preventing 66% of adolescent girls from being able to purchase the products to manage their cycles with dignity and wellness. Many menstruators passing through period poverty have been forced to switch to unsafe and unhygienic alternatives like old cloth, tissue paper, rags, nylon sheets, and children’s diapers cut in half. 

In a country with the highest number of refugees per capita worldwide, the period poverty crisis has been described to be much more drastic among Syrian refugee womenPlan International has reported that among the above mentioned 66% of adolescent girls in Lebanon who did not have any financial capabilities to afford to purchase sanitary pads, more than half were Syrian refugees. The challenges for accessing a safe and hygienic environment for menstruation is much more complicated for refugees because of the long distances to a private toilet, lack of locks on toilet doors, lack of/limited availability of personal and hygienic space, little electricity in the camps, sexual harassment, and gender-based discrimination and violence. Refugee women are also circumstantially often forced to purchase pads of poor quality that cause severe irritation, infections, and rashes. Such issues exacerbate period shame, trauma, and stigma among Syrian refugee women, especially when forced to skip school or drop out completely. 

Several initiatives have been implemented by several international and local non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to limit and eradicate period poverty in Lebanon. Dawrati, which means “menstruation cycle” in Arabic, is a local NGO that aims to address period poverty in Lebanon through the distribution of three types of kits: menstruation kit, maternity kit, and first-time period kit. Dawrati also works on empowering menstruators through frequent conversations, discussions, and awareness campaigns about periods and related issues to destigmatize the topic and increase the knowledge of the community. This has proved to enhance the mental and physical well-being of those who menstruate. Fe-Male, a civil feminist collective that aims to eradicate social injustices among Lebanese girls and women, also distributes menstrual kits and organized several awareness sessions to break the period poverty stigma. Jeyetik, another local initiative following the Beirut Blast explosion, distributed almost 8,000 pads and tampons to females who lost their houses. It organized a 2-month festival all over Lebanon that conducted information sessions and distributed reusable pads. UNFPA, Days for Girls, and Plan International are examples of international NGOs that have researched period poverty, distributed menstrual dignity kits to those in need, and conducted awareness sessions about methods to deal with periods and other relative topics in Lebanon. 

Illustration showing the items that some resort to using to attempt to keep themselves clean and dry, produced for Every Month Manchester #100days campaign. Source.

Evidence-based actions and solutions need to be taken urgently to address period poverty in Lebanon. First, the international and local NGOs need to join forces and build a strong coalition together while fighting the period poverty battle through collaborative strategies. Such alliances can share knowledge and lessons learned, incorporate menstrual health into relevant policies, conduct awareness sessions about menstruation to empower period conversations and discussions and collaborate in producing and using more menstrual health and hygiene research. Second, a national subsidy plan needs to be developed and implemented by the Lebanese Government to ensure that period poverty and its dangerous consequences are limited to refugee women and adolescent girls. Third, research has shown that reusable pads are influential in determining the harmful coping mechanisms that women face when trying to access menstruation products. Hence, distributing reusable pads to refugee and Lebanese women is a must to limit the shame and stigma of menstruation. The coalitions mentioned above can also support the creation of women-only safe spaces that empower women’s financial independence by allowing them to produce, use, and sell reusable pads. The spaces can serve as peer-support networks that enable women to socialize and work together and overcome feelings of isolation during menstruation. Lastly, awareness and educational sessions for both men and women need to be designed through a localized context that maps out the authentic voices of the community. That being said, all health promoters conducting the sessions should be trained on the cultural background and beliefs of the target community to increase their understanding of the context and expect all possible challenges they might face throughout. The initiatives should result from frequent community needs assessments to understand all problems and concerns to be tackled effectively and appropriately. Lastly, because mothers have been reported to be the primary source of sexual and reproductive health information for girls coming from different developing countries, information sessions for mothers can break period taboos and shame among Syrian refugee girls and adolescent girls who do not frequently have access to school-based education that is considered a luxury rather than a right. 

As Lebanon’s economy shows no improvement, period poverty remains a necessary local, regional, and global public health concern that needs to be addressed as soon as possible. Immediate and sustainable solutions set by international and local concerned entities should be implemented to manage, limit, and potentially eradicate period poverty in Lebanon and ensure better social, physical, and mental well-being for everyone who menstruates. 

Featured Image source: Period poverty has forced more than a quarter of females to miss work or school, survey finds, itvx. Source attached.

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