Gaza: The daily hunt for nappies and sanitary pads

Hygiene products, Gaza

28 June 2024

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Women and girls in Gaza are enduring dire circumstances with scarce food, no access to safe water or sanitation facilities, and a lack of essential sanitary products. About 1.1 million women and girls in the region lack basic necessities like safe drinking water, functioning toilets, and sanitary pads, creating a breeding ground for disease and posing a severe threat to women’s health and dignity.

The management of menstrual hygiene is a critical but neglected issue. More than 540,000 women and girls in Gaza are of reproductive age and require access to basic hygiene and health items. Millions of sanitary pads are needed monthly, but access is severely restricted. This forces women and girls to resort to unsafe alternatives, increasing the risk of infections and impacting their ability to participate in daily activities.

CARE has spoken to three women in Gaza who have told us about their daily ordeal trying to find hygiene products for themselves and their children.

Sarah, 18: “It is especially hard for me when I have my period”

Sara, Gaza

Sometimes it feels like our entire day evolves around finding food and water, using the toilet and trying to wash ourselves.

"Taking care of our personal hygiene is a massive issue for us. Toothbrushes, toothpaste, sanitary napkins, shampoo – everything that used to be available and affordable is now almost impossible to get. How shall we afford toothpaste if we don’t even have money to buy food?

"It is especially hard for me when I have my period. We share a bathroom with three families. I only have minutes to use the toilet, because there will always be others in front of the door waiting. I have to be quick; I cannot take the time I need. I always take my personal items with me to the bathroom in a plastic bag, and I also have my own bin bag because otherwise I am too embarrassed. We also hardly get any toilet paper, as it is way too expensive and often not available.

"When I have my period, I wish I was able to properly clean myself. I have heard from others that they are using old clothes and towels instead of sanitary napkins. I am lucky that my parents are really going out of their way to find sanitary napkins for me to make my life as a young woman a little bit more bearable."

Sawsan, 30: “My baby has a skin rash because we have to keep nappies on longer than we should”

Sawsan and baby, Gaza

"As a woman, as a mother, I always struggle with the lack of privacy. We live in a tent, and everyone can always see and hear everything. We share a bathroom with lots of people. When I need to use the bathroom, I often must wait for a long time. When I have my period, I use the same hygiene pad for the entire day.

Any woman will understand what this means, and how uncomfortable this is.

"I used to bathe my children almost every day. Now, there is not enough water, and I can often only wash them once per week. This is really hard, because we live in the middle of the desert, and everything is full of dust in our tent. Once I wash my children, I use the same water to wash our clothes.

"For babies, the situation is also dire. There is no formula available in the market, so I use whatever other kinds of milk I can find. It is also hard to get nappies for my baby. She suffers from a rash because we often have to keep the nappies on longer than we should.

"As a mother, every second of this war is filled with fear. I fear for my children all of the time. I am afraid that one of them could be harmed or killed."

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Eman, 35: “I cut up diapers because I had no sanitary napkins”

Eman, Gaza

"We have no proper bathroom. Together with two other families, we dug a hole into the ground and use a bucket. We have set up some tarpaulins around it to at least create some privacy. We can only wash ourselves once per week, because there is simply no water available. I use the same water for all three of us.

"Changing the sanitary napkins is also an ordeal. It is hard to change it in the small space we have, and sometimes people just open the door to our makeshift bathroom without even knocking. I often have period pain, and that is when I usually want to sit on the toilet for longer. Now, there is no toilet to sit on. A few times, I did not have any sanitary napkins. I ended up cutting up a children’s diaper and using it instead.

"I am divorced and am taking care of my two children by myself. As a mother, I want nothing more but provide my children with a safe place to live, with good food and clean water. I want them to continue their education and live their dreams. It makes me sad to think about the life our children and us have been reduced to, and whether this will ever change again.

My wish is that the world can, even just for a few minutes, be with us, feel what we are feeling, suffer what we are suffering. Maybe then this war can finally stop.

How you can help

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