Mitigating Period Poverty Among Syrian Refugee Women in Lebanon: How a Local Organization Is Making a Contribution

Meelie Pemberton, Co-Founder, WingWoman Lebanon

Period Poverty and Its Consequences

The issue of period poverty is a multifaceted problem that extends far beyond a lack of access to menstrual products. It includes a lack of access to appropriate facilities and information, which affects not only refugee communities but also the wider population, including Lebanese communities and individuals from diverse economic strata.

To address this issue, efforts must be made towards creating sustainable solutions that focus on comprehensive menstrual hygiene management. This includes providing access to safe and suitable menstrual products, ensuring the availability of private and safe spaces for changing and disposing of products, and providing adequate washing facilities. There is also a need to prioritize education and awareness-raising activities, for both men and women. This will contribute to tackling myths and misconceptions and will help to create a supportive environment in which people can openly discuss menstrual health and hygiene without shame or stigma.

The consequences of period poverty are significant: according to the World Bank, 500 million, of the estimated 800 million people who are menstruating daily, do not have access to suitable period products. This lack of access can lead to any number of the following outcomes; physical and mental health issues, exploitation, abuse, isolation, and even death. It can also result in the absence of women from the workplace and girls from school both of which have far-reaching consequences. To demonstrate these consequences: it is estimated that girls miss up to 10-20% of school days every month due to menstruation. They then fall behind their male peers and eventually drop out of school. This leads to reduced education and therefore employment opportunities. This increases the risk of child marriage and perpetuates the cycle of poverty and the economic dependence of women on men. Additionally, studies show (example 1example 2) that one of the greatest predictors of a child’s health and well-being is the level of a mother’s education (not the father’s). Therefore, girls missing school has wide-ranging implications both for the mother and for the future of her children.

A recent study looking into menstrual health practices in Lebanon found that since the economic crisis, 80% of participants noticed a change in product consumption within their communities, with 75% stating increased prices as the reason. This has led to the use of inadequate and unsafe alternatives such as newspapers, rags, and even reusing disposable products after washing them. Another study focusing on those within refugee camps found that period products were often not seen as a household priority with one woman saying, “A bread bundle is worth a thousand pads.”

Women also faced difficulties in buying products from male shopkeepers and using bathrooms, as they were embarrassed for others to know they were menstruating, and/or this could expose them to violence and harassment. Additionally, where husbands do the shopping for the family, they were sometimes too uncomfortable to buy pads, and thus women went without, highlighting that the affordability of the products is not the only issue.

How WingWoman Lebanon Is Working to Mitigate Period Poverty

WingWoman Lebanon (WWL), run in collaboration with Stand for Women, is committed to providing long-term access to period products and increasing knowledge and education surrounding menstruation. Women from vulnerable communities are supported with livelihood opportunities through the production of reusable period pads and reusable diapers, which are then distributed through NGO partners. To ensure the financial sustainability of the organization, the products are sold to the NGOs, enabling WWL to both reach those most in need and cover its basic costs.

The WWL reusable pads function similarly to disposable pads, with the main difference being that they are washed and used again. One pack of reusable pads prevents around 790 disposable pads from ending up in landfill, providing significant environmental savings for individuals and organizations (as well as financial savings too). They also come in a variety of fun patterns and colors.

What started as a small social sewing circle has grown into an organization supporting the livelihoods of 23 women and distributing over 55,000 reusable pads throughout Lebanon and there are plans to achieve much more. Check out this video in which the women involved in the project discuss the impact it has on their lives and wider society.

Key Learnings to Date

Through the experience of setting up this project, a critical insight is that when seeking to genuinely help others in a respectful and impactful manner, it is crucial to prioritize listening. By collaboratively acting on the ideas and feedback of those whom the project aims to serve, including their grievances and successes, tailored solutions that address their unique needs can be developed.

Furthermore, the value of adopting an evidence-based and inclusive approach to decision-making cannot be understated. This engenders trust with the individuals involved, thereby enabling a reciprocal relationship that is characterized by transparency and a shared commitment to achieving meaningful outcomes. Such transparency has yielded unexpected positive outcomes, demonstrating the transformative power of authentic collaboration.

Finally, please follow us on Instagram to remain up to date with what WingWoman Lebanon is doing and please do reach out with any thoughts, ideas, or suggestions as we are continuously seeking new ways to promote positive change and enhance the impact we are having!