A month after the Beirut Port explosion, life remains uncertain for thousands of women and girls. Among the displaced are an estimated 84,000 women and girls of reproductive age.
UNFPA, the agency specializing in reproductive and maternal health worldwide, is working with 12 partners on the ground to distribute dignity kits, which contain sanitary pads, soap, toothbrushes, toothpaste and towels. These items are helping women and girls maintain their personal hygiene even amid the destruction and displacement.
This is essential, community members have emphasized.
“Just like I would want my girls to be fed, I would also want them to have these basic hygienic needs”, said Hayat Merhi, a woman with three adolescent daughters whose family was affected by the blast.
Pandemic, economic turmoil
The blast and its aftermath comes on top of the COVID-19 pandemic and an economic crisis, years in the making. Job losses have curtailed family spending, even as disease prevention is becoming more urgent than ever.
Too often, the needs of women and girls are the first to go unmet.
“There was a time when my daughters were using a piece of cloth instead of pads", said Lina Mroueh, who also has three adolescent daughters.
UNFPA partners have been canvassing blast-impacted areas as they distribute the dignity kits, speaking with women and girls about their circumstances. The work is challenging, but rewarding, they say.
“Bringing light into their broken homes and telling women and girls that their dignity, safety and personal needs matter to the world in these difficult times is the least we can do,” described Rima Al Hussayni, director of Al Mithaq Association.
The distribution of dignity kits is also an opportunity to address yet another crisis: gender-based violence, according to UNFPA.
Gender-based violence is known to increase in humanitarian settings and in times of economic stress. Amid the pandemic, many countries are reporting increased violence against women and rising demands for support services.
“It is very important to remember that dignity kits are helpful to women and girls, not only for the menstrual hygiene products, soaps and other items, but also as a way to reach women and girls with key messages about sexual and reproductive health and rights, gender-based violence, the prevention of sexual exploitation, and abuse services and information,” said Felicia Jones, UNFPA’s humanitarian coordinator.
The dignity kits contain referral information to connect survivors with help. The people distributing the kits are also trained to provide this information.
In some cases, they explain even more.
“We trained our staff to demonstrate how to use and maintain the items in the kit”, said Gabby Fraidy of the Lebanese Council to Resist Violence Against Women. “We had 11-year-old girls who came to us, and our role was to share information about menstruation and explain to them that it is a natural and a biological process that occurs, and that it’s a part of growing up.”
Akkarouna and Al Makassed associations are also distributing dignity kits to women and girls with disabilities, who often face additional vulnerabilities and challenges accessing sexual and reproductive health services and commodities.
It is estimated that around 12,000 disabled persons have been affected by the blast.