Menstrual pain: Myanmar women struggle with menstrual hygiene | Conflict News

A year after Myanmar erupted into civil war over a military coup in February 2021, more than half a million people have been internally displaced, leaving millions without access to basic food and medical needs.

For women, the challenges of managing their menstrual cycle compound their difficulties.

“I have to use a sanitary pad all day. I use it until the blood spills, and sometimes, when I don’t have a pad at all, I use a cloth,” said Sundar, who is from the Sagaing region in the country’s northwest.

Over the past year, Sundar has had to flee her village several times, sleeping under a tarpaulin in the forest or taking refuge in a nearby school and monastery. Not only has the crisis made it difficult for her to obtain sanitary pads, but it has also made it difficult for her to find enough water to bathe or wash her underwear — leaving her unwell, embarrassed and at risk of infection.

“When I had my period, I didn’t have the confidence to walk around or get close to other people,” she said. Al Jazeera used the pseudonyms of Sundar and the other women for this article because those who spoke to the reporter were at risk of military reprisals. “People may notice a smell, I don’t feel safe, and I often ask other women to check my back for blood.”

At any one time, 800 million people around the world are menstruating. Even under the best of circumstances, the experience can be uncomfortable and stressful for many women, but for those living in difficult situations such as poverty or conflict, menstruation can have implications for their health, safety and well-being more serious impact.

Maggie Schmitt, a public health researcher at Columbia University Gender, Adolescent Transition and Environment (GATE) ProgramThe group, which has been working with the International Rescue Committee since 2015 on a global study of menstruation in humanitarian emergencies, told Al Jazeera that displaced women and girls often face more than menstrual povertyor difficult to offer menstrual products, but usually Lack Use these products as well as safe, private and clean toilets and changing and washing facilities.

[JC/Al Jazeera]

Fear of bloodstains from insufficient menstrual products can keep women and teenage girls from participating in daily activities including work and school, and being unable to bathe with soap and clean water or change menstrual products leaves them vulnerable to infection and often with limited acceptance. Medical options.

“More attention needs to be paid to the menstrual needs of people in transit, including girls and women looking for safety and shelter from one place to another,” Schmidt said.

In Myanmar, widespread fighting and instability, as well as military attacks on residential areas and camps for displaced persons, have severely affected women’s ability to meet basic needs during menstruation. Burmese women told Al Jazeera that frequent house moves hindered their access to sanitary pads and clean water, and said they had little privacy.

They add that sanitary pads are increasingly out of their budgets. Prices of basic commodities climbed across the country due to rising fuel costs, supply chain disruptions and the devaluation of Myanmar’s currency, the kyat.

Basic items are also in short supply in conflict-affected areas, as fighting has closed local markets, making it more difficult to deliver goods to stores. The military has also blocked the movement of essential supplies – part of a long-term strategy dubbed “four knives‘ It is trying to starve the support bases of armed resistance groups.

Meanwhile, about 1.6 million people in Myanmar have lose job In 2021, many farmers and casual workers will be unable to work due to the pandemic and the coup, as well as armed conflict. In December, the United Nations predicted that nearly half of Myanmar’s population would be living on less than $1 a day by the beginning of this year, double what it was five years ago.

‘I’m afraid men will see my blood’

Sundar, 27, first fled her village in Kani township in the Sagaing region last April.Less than three months after the coup, armed resistance is just beginning Appear In rural areas after the army shot and killed hundreds of nonviolent protesters.

The Sagaing region in northwestern Myanmar was one of the first areas where civilians fought back with weapons.As armed resistance has grown, the army has revenge Raided and burned villages and carried out mass killings – including in the town of Kani, where the bodies of at least 40 men, most of them tortured, were found in July.

To avoid encountering soldiers, villagers across the state frequently hide In forested areas, monasteries and schools, they risked returning home by waiting days or weeks.

In Sundar’s village, there is now only one store that sells sanitary pads, but it sometimes runs out of stock. Even with sanitary pads, the cost has roughly doubled since the coup, and Sundar and her family have no income. She has stopped teaching for more than a year as part of a national civil disobedience movement, while her family has been unable to find casual work because of the conflict.

“My family prioritizes buying food and necessities, so when we’re at home, we don’t usually use pads. We just stay in our room, our htameins [sarongs] Ruined by menstrual blood,” she said.

When Sundar had to flee into the forest, there was usually no nearby water source for bathing. The villagers had to find a farm that had a well and was safe from soldiers, but there wasn’t enough water to move around, so Sundar took a bath about every three days. “We prioritize drinking water over bathing,” she said.

Monasteries and schools have better water conditions, but conditions are more crowded, with men and women sharing sleeping, bathing and toilet facilities.

“When I get my period on a flight, I only shower at night because I’m afraid men or other people will see my blood,” Sundar said. “We don’t have a private place to change mats or change clothes because there are many displaced people living in the same place. I usually change my mats at night when everyone is sleeping.”

There is no one place to dispose of used pads discreetly, and Sundar sometimes takes them around until she can go home. She also doesn’t have a private place to dry her underwear, so she hangs them under other clothes and often wears them again while they’re still damp. “I get skin irritation and discomfort every month,” she says.

Women in southeastern Myanmar near the Thai border describe similar problems.

Illustration of a woman looking from under a tarpaulin to a man sitting around a campfire
[JC/Al Jazeera]

In the past year, the region has been in constant conflict with more than 230,000 People, many are now in desperate need of water, firewood and food.

The crisis is particularly acute in Kayah state, where more than half of the state’s population is now displaced, with the army bombing the capital as well as camps and churches for displaced persons.

Htee Meh, a university student before the pandemic and the coup, fled her village last May due to fighting. Since then, she has been walking around, sleeping in other people’s houses or in the forest, sometimes even without any cover. Although she often gets wet on rainy nights, now seven months into the dry season, she is struggling to find clean bath water.

“The well is drying up. When we’re in the forest, we have to bathe in the same pond with the buffaloes and cows, and we get skin irritation and rashes,” she said. “There are streams and creeks, which are closer, but we dare not go there to bathe because we are more likely to be targeted by soldiers.”

She also described a lack of privacy. “Our makeshift tents don’t have doors or proper rooms,” she said. “When we need to change our sanitary pads, we ask people like female family members or friends to watch outside.”

On top of that, she often has no hygiene protection. “Sometimes, because the roads are blocked, there are no sanitary pads at all,” she said. “immediately, [people] Can’t work due to constant fighting…even if we want to buy [pads], travel everywhere is dangerous, and gas prices are high. “

Not wanting to waste a cloth, sometimes she doesn’t have any menstrual products at all. “It made my underwear dirty and uncomfortable,” she said. “There was no water to wash my underwear or clothes, so when I had my period, I didn’t have the confidence to walk around or talk to other displaced people.”

Crowdfunding Health Needs

Several groups are working to distribute pads to the displaced, but the women interviewed by Al Jazeera said they received little or no pads.

A volunteer living in southeastern Myanmar, who has been crowdfunding for the purchase and distribution of hygiene products, said she and other volunteers faced ongoing risks as they travel to displaced people who have mostly taken refuge in remote areas.

Illustration of a woman lying down and resting due to menstrual pain
[JC/Al Jazeera]

Sourcing sanitary pads was also difficult, she said, as most local stores were closed due to the conflict. However, when she ordered sanitary pads from Yangon, the delivery was often delayed. She added that because most volunteers involved in aid distribution are men, women are often reluctant to ask for sanitary pads out of embarrassment.

In the Sagaing region, Sundar raised similar concerns. “Men are the ones who run most of the camps for displaced people, while women are ashamed to mention menstruation,” she said. “Camp managers or superintendents also often forget to arrange sanitary pads etc. for women’s needs.”

Large numbers of women joined armed revolutionary groups, lived in remote training camps and moved around in jungles and forests. Gloria, 19, said managing her period has been difficult since the shooting at the army in Mobi, Shan State, in February.

“Sometimes, we can’t even change the pads in one day. I have to use the same pad as long as it can hold,” she said. “Sometimes when I don’t have pads, I can’t do much and just stay in the shelter and sleep.”

She is one of about 10 women in a unit of more than 100 men, and while the women camp separately and have their own toilets, they share a bathing area with the men. With only a bar of soap and scarce water, Gloria takes a bath twice a month.

When she goes to the front, she usually spends days in the same clothes and underwear. She burns or burys her used pads, or carries them around in a bag, and with only drinking water, she can’t shower at all.

Still, she moved on.

“I had my period. I also had to carry a gun and a heavy bag while trying to keep up with other comrades,” she said. “Despite these difficulties, I will keep going because I want democracy.”

This article was funded under Section 19 of the “Voices of Inclusion” project funded by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs of the Netherlands.



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