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Bertoua, Cameroon: 2 October 2015. Field staff of the United Nations Entity for Gender Equality and the Empowerment of Women (UN Women) and a plethora of other Humanitarian experts working with female refugees from the Central African Republic in some seven refugee camps in eastern Cameroon have warned of a possible outbreak of vaginal infections and reproductive health problems connected to poor menstrual hygiene practices.
Mohamadou Baba, assistant site manager of the Gado-Badgere refugee camp – one of seven in the region and home to 24,000 refugees from the Central African Republic – said that the refugees’ ignorance of menstrual hygiene kits and menstrual hygiene management (MHM) was “disturbing and appalling”. Speaking to Rockaya Aidara, Policy Officer at WSSCC and UN Women staff who took a visit to the camp, Mr Baba called on humanitarian agencies to improve management of menstrual hygiene within the refugee community or face a potential “outbreak” of menstrual health problems.
Acoording to Jessica Tete, International Medical Corps’ Gender-Based Violence (GBV) programme supervisor also active in the camp, the lack of education is to blame. “Refugee women in Gado prefer using children’s diapers and napkins and pieces of cloth, such as towels for their menstrual pads,” Ms Tete said. “We’ve noticed that when menstrual hygiene kits are distributed to female refugees by the Red Cross Federation they use them as handkerchiefs and cleaning rags [among other things]. Only those who have had some basic education come back to ask for more pads.”
This was the first time that UNHCR had included menstrual hygiene kits as part of its NFIs (non-food items) for refugees living in the Gado camp. UN Women’s programme officer in charge of economic empowerment and governance, Mme Paulette Beat Songue, said the misuse of menstrual hygiene kits motivated her agency to organise the four-day workshop, which would give humanitarian agencies MHM tools to pass on to field social workers and other sensitisation agents.
“There is definitely a willingness to prioritise when you are working in a crisis situation,” said WSSCC’s Rockaya Aidara. “However, information and suitable facilities are key to tackling sanitation, hygiene and health issues in emergency situations. We know that all risks are exacerbated during this period, so we would like to offer practical innovative and low-cost solutions that can empower refugees, as well as host communities.”
The workshop, which was organised by UN Women, UNHCR and WSSCC, trained around 30 humanitarian actors, including community workers, refugee leaders from the camps, civil society organisations and government personnel on the WSSCC’s “3 pillars approach” to menstrual health: breaking the silence (dealing with taboos); MHM; and safe reuse and disposal solutions (of menstrual health products).
Workshop participants learned about the need to understand menstrual hygiene management, in relation to education, sanitation and the environment, and studied MHM techniques, the menstrual cycle and how to use menstrual hygiene training kits.
UN Women and WSSCC are working together to implement the Joint Programme on Gender, Hygiene and Sanitation in West and Central Africa, which is aimed at changing policies in the region to improve women and girls’ human right to water and sanitation. Download the latest updates on the Joint Programme in English and French.