Lack of feminine hygiene products threatens Gaza women with chronic diseases

Lack of feminine hygiene products threatens Gaza women with chronic diseases
Israel's war and siege on Gaza has left the Palestinian territory's women without access to hygiene products, exposing them to lifelong disease.
5 min read
27 December, 2023
Women in Gaza have been exposed to horrific suffering as a result of Israel's war [Getty]

Palestinian women in Gaza are suffering from a lack of sanitary pads, sterilizers, and personal hygiene equipment and this has negatively affected their lives as Israel's indiscriminate war on the besieged Palestinian territory continues for a third month.

Speaking to The New Arab, local women complained that they sometimes have to spend long days searching in pharmacies, shops, and local markets just to find sanitary pads and tissues, in addition to personal hygiene sterilizers, without obtaining any of them.

They said that they suffer from the effects of the absence of personal hygiene materials, especially during the menstrual cycle, which requires particular attention to hygiene.

Among those women is Zainab Omar, a displaced Palestinian in the city of Rafah, who spent several days searching for sanitary pads but was unable to obtain any.

“I was displaced from my home in Gaza City to Rafah without being able to take anything with me.No clothes, no money, nothing," The 28-year-old mother of three told The New Arab. 

"I did not know that the war would last and that I would stay away from my home for a long time. I struggled a lot to survive and dealt with all the difficult circumstances that my husband and I faced," she added.

Zainab did not know that she would face a new journey of torment, which would involve a desperate search for sanitary pads as her menstrual period approached.

"I did not prepare myself for such conditions. My period has come, and I did not have any of my toiletries for days like these. My husband searched a lot for me for sanitary pads, but he did not find them," she said.

The young woman had to dispense with her head scarf and cut it into three pieces in order to use it as an alternative to sanitary napkins, as she used to wash the piece she was using.

"I cried a lot. I was afraid that I would contract bacteria while using a cloth as an alternative to pads, but I had no other choice.

For Maram Al-Sayed, a displaced woman from Gaza City, the situation was worse, especially since she gave birth to her baby three weeks after the outbreak of the war between Hamas and Israel.

The 20-year-old woman told TNA, “I was displaced from my home before I was due to give birth without taking any of the new baby’s clothes or even my birth supplies. I thought I would return to my home soon, but all my hopes were in vain".

After several weeks, the young mother recalled, “My husband and I struggled a lot to buy clothes for the baby, as well as my toiletries and sanitary pads. But we found only a few of them at very expensive prices."

"The sanitary pads only lasted me a few days, and this is what made me resort to pieces of cloth for use during postpartum," she added.

Due to the lack of water, the cold weather, and the lack of sanitary pads and toiletries, Maram contracted a genital bacterial infection that forced her to be admitted to the hospital for several days without her child.

"Due to the bacterial infection, I did not stop menstruating and it has remained with me until this moment. The doctors told me that they may have to perform an operation on the uterus if my body does not respond to medical treatment," she explained. 

The young woman fears that she will not be able to have children again if her suffering continues for a longer period.

The lack of women's supplies, especially sanitary pads, has prompted many activists to issue calls on social media platforms to demand the provision of their personal hygiene supplies, stressing that their supplies are not a "luxury", but vital to ensure women's health, and there may be major negative effects if they are not available to women.

The shortage of women's supplies in the Gaza Strip is due to the prevention of their entry as part of humanitarian aid, in addition to the prevention of the entry of goods through the Rafah land crossing ever since the outbreak of the war between Hamas and Israel.

As a result, some women have resorted to using contraceptive drugs to postpone their menstrual cycle, causing many of them great pain that exacerbated their daily suffering.

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"We do not know what to do. We were not prepared to face such difficult circumstances. Everything happened suddenly and we are the ones paying the price of this war," Khadija Abu Jahal, another woman in Gaza said to TNA.

Khadija said that she contracted a bacterial infection in her reproductive system due to using the public bathroom in the asylum centre where she has taken refuge.

"There is neither enough water nor sterilizers to clean the bathrooms. We are forced to live in this situation and we are all exposed to diseases and epidemics," she said. 

Using any contaminated utensil during menstruation or even relieving oneself in the bathroom may cause a bacterial infection, especially among women, who may be infected with dangerous staphylococcus bacteria, according to Samia Abu Draz, an obstetrician and gynecologist in Gaza City. 

“If this bacterium happens to infect the vagina, the infection can reach the uterus and fallopian tubes, and pelvic inflammation may occur at that time, and this is enough to cause blood poisoning, which then leads to the inability to become pregnant again," Abu Draz told TNA

Heba Rashid, an employee of the Mersal Charitable Foundation, said that shipments of sanitary pads had already been sent since the beginning of the war, but she added that these were much less than what was required by the women of the Gaza Strip. 

According to the United Nations, before the current escalation, there were 650,000 women and girls in urgent need of humanitarian assistance in Gaza. This estimate has now risen to 1.1 million, including nearly 800,000 internally displaced women.

With deadly Israeli airstrikes killing and injuring hundreds of people every day , a continuing "total siege" by Israel, and an alarming rise in sexual and gender-based violence due to the chaotic situation on the ground, women in Gaza feel completely abandoned by the world.