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“When I can’t get sanitary pads, I feel ashamed and uncomfortable.” ActionAid hears from women as millions struggle to access menstrual products and hygiene education. 

Women in Lita, Ituri Province

On World Menstrual Hygiene Day, ActionAid has heard from women and girls who, especially in humanitarian emergencies, are being forced to use dried leaves, newspaper, and scraps of clothing as substitutes for period products.

The lack of period products creates a dire situation for women and girls in emergencies. They are often forced to resort to unsafe alternatives, putting them at risk of discomfort and infections. Stigma and shame surrounding menstruation are further exacerbated in cramped and crowded living conditions, leading to social isolation and emotional distress.

Aisha*, a 39-year-old woman at an internally displaced people’s (IDP) shelter in Beledweyne, Somalia said:

"Menstrual hygiene is a major issue for me. Sanitary pads are expensive and, in most cases, when humanitarian emergency support comes, no one thinks about menstrual hygiene because of other urgent needs like food and water. In most cases when I can’t get sanitary pads, I feel ashamed and uncomfortable. 

Mary*, a displaced woman in Salamabila, in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), recounts her experience: 

“During my period, I have nothing clean to use. I tear pieces from the only clothes I have left. It is humiliating and uncomfortable, but I have no choice.” 

Suzanne*, a mother of three from Lita in Ituri province in DRC, shares her experience: 

"During displacement, I had to use old clothes and sometimes even leaves to manage my periods. It was not only uncomfortable but also, I felt unhygienic. I worry about my daughters facing the same struggles. 

In humanitarian emergencies, disruptions to supply chains and damaged infrastructure can make it difficult to obtain menstrual products. Moreover, shelters lack private spaces and proper sanitation facilities for women and girls to manage their periods hygienically. 

Tania, a young woman living in an IDP camp in Port-au-Prince, Haiti, said:

“In the camps, we have no safe place to shower and change properly during our menstruation. We often have to hide under a blanket to clean and change the pads." 

ActionAid is calling for increased focus on the specific needs of women, girls, and all people who menstruate during emergencies.

Wangari Kinoti, Women’s Rights and Feminist Alternatives Lead at ActionAid said: 

''Emergencies create the least supportive environment for menstruation and this raises multiple health and wellbeing risks. This exacerbates the existing stigma and misconceptions surrounding menstruation and has repercussions for access to other rights.

This World Menstrual Hygiene Day, we remind governments and all responders that menstrual health is a rights issue always and needs to be spotlighted during emergencies.''

World Menstrual Hygiene Day serves as a crucial reminder of the need for governments, humanitarian organisations, and the private sector to prioritise the inclusion of period products in emergency response kits and support the development and distribution of innovative, sustainable menstrual health solutions.

Contact the ActionAid press office on or on +263776665065.