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crises & menstruation

October 18, 2023

CEO note: We commissioned the below blog 2 months ago, when one of our writer’s suggested she highlight the difficulties of managing menstruation in an earthquake crisis zone from her own relief-work experience. 

In light of recent events in Gaza, we wish to use this blog to highlight the struggles that come with menstruation management in the face of every humanitarian crisis – whether Acts of God or Acts of War. 

The M Scale is here for every menstruator, therefore we have included a link to donate to UNFPA Dignity Kit Fund if you would like to help bring period products and hygiene to women in need.

Hatay, Türkiye & Menstruation

The world reeled at the news of the two catastrophic earthquakes that hit Türkiye and Syria on Monday 6th, February 2023. The affected area in Türkiye is about the same size as Germany, and the major cities of Adana, Gaziantep, Antakya, Hatay, and Diyarbakır are all but gone. 

In the southeast corner of Türkiye, about 12 miles from the border with neighbouring Syria, is the province of Hatay, where I found myself volunteering at a relief camp several times throughout 2023.

Antakya six weeks after the earthquake.

Toilets at an Earthquake relief camp in Antakya, Hatay

In general, standards for cleanliness in Türkiye are very high, and under normal circumstances, you can find seated toilets in most major cities, as well as squat toilets. Toilet paper cannot be flushed down the toilets and is thrown in the bin. 

Volunteers at the earthquake relief camp in Antakya, Hatay, had three squat toilets for volunteers. If you get caught out with your period while there, you need to get used to using a tiny squat toilet to change out your menstrual items. I did manage to use my menstrual cup during the two weeks I was there (on two different occasions) because there’s a tiny sink inside the cubicles. 

Volunteers understood only too well the importance of hygiene and hand washing to prevent the spread of disease, and the toilets were cleaned to the highest standard possible (every day) despite the desperately challenging conditions.

Two amazing volunteers emptying bins and cleaning the teams squat toilets every day

Menstruating in Türkiye

Menstruators in Türkiye generally prefer to use sanitary pads. Tampons are available in Türkiye but only in certain mainstream chain stores in major cities. Turkish menstruators don’t use tampons widely, and menstrual cups are new. A few Turkish brands of menstrual underwear are now available.

The reality of sanitary conditions in Hatay, Türkiye, with no running water

During the immediate aftermath of the earthquakes, some mums and I from my children’s school community donated sanitary items to Hatay. By the time I went to volunteer at the camp six weeks later, aid organisations had set up a lot of emergency tent villages. 

There were not enough cubicle toilets to serve the amount of people who needed them. 

I returned in April and then again in August, by which point many people had moved into containers and continued using the limited number of cubicle squat toilets. One family I know has a plot of land that belongs to them, so they had their own, which is rare. These cubicles have water tanks and soap, but the people of Hatay face winter with still no running water. People collect bottled drinking water from distribution points. Showers are limited, so menstruating people can’t wash as they wish. 

The lack of running water poses a significant risk to health in the coming months: 

Disorders such as asthma are expected to rise, while the incidents of longer-term diseases such as lung, throat and laryngeal cancers are expected to rise. The immediate issues, however, have been illnesses, such as diarrhoea, due to a lack of hygiene (Yilmaz, Al Jazeera

How You Can Help

If you’ll be in the region yourself as a tourist (Hatay is a gastro and historical epicentre and history and hotels and restaurants are reopening so please do visit) or as an aid worker/volunteer, take items to donate, such as pads, new underwear, and hand soap. Remember, it’s a more conservative Muslim community, so be discreet when handing over personal items to protect the dignity of menstruators.

Take hand sanitiser with you, use the M Scale menstruation app, add feedback about the bathrooms, and raise awareness of the situation to help other menstruating people who live there and menstruating travellers who visit.

You can donate to the ongoing relief work in the region by giving here.

Read Becky’s stories about the Turkish earthquake zone on her blog here

My friend washing up at makeshift washing up station

Becky Hunter-Kelm

A Brit living in Istanbul, Becky is a copywriter for heart-led coaches, business owners and entrepreneurs doing great things in the world.

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