“During the first week of every month, I buy a pack of sanitary pads, which contains ten pads. I use those during the first half of my period, and in the second half I use pieces of old cloth.” This is how 24-year old Roaa explains her struggles when buying sanitary pads and menstrual supplies under a crippling economic collapse.
Roaa works in a clothing store, and has a monthly salary of 800,000 Lebanese pounds, the dollar exchange rate reached 18,000 pounds this week in Lebanon. As a result, her salary now equals a meager 45 dollars at a time when all menstrual products are being sold in dollars, or their equivalent in Lebanese pounds.
Roaa pays 450,000 Lebanese pounds for her room’s rent and uses the remaining 350,000 pounds to buy her basic needs such as food and drink, and she only has a little bit left to buy what she needs for her menstrual cycle. She clarifies, “I had to set my priorities, either I would give up public transportation or I would give up sanitary pads, feminine wash, and painkillers, and that's what I did. I kept using Van 4 (public transport minibus) to get to my place of work, and decided to just sacrifice my physical and psychological comfort for six days every month.”
After more than a year of no solutions for women, the price of one pack of sanitary pads now ranges between 12 and 24,000 Liras, about 4% of the monthly minimum wage.
Last year, with the start of the severe economic collapse, the Ministry of Economy announced its initiative to secure a subsidized food basket that would secure the basic needs of the Lebanese citizen through 300 subsidized commodities. However, sanitary pads were not among the supported items in the ministry’s basket. In turn, every shop across the country raised its prices. And so, the economic collapse in Lebanon reached the wombs of women who began stocking up on as many sanitary pads as they could in order to avoid the mad price hike that was going to happen.
Today, after more than a year of no solutions provided by the government for women and their rights in relation to their bodies, the price of one pack of sanitary pads now ranges between 12,000 and 24,000 Lebanese pounds, depending on the type and brand, while the price of one pack before the crisis was at about 5,000 pounds only.
A large majority of women in Lebanon are unable to afford the costs of their menstrual cycle as pads prices rise by 0ver 500% and income levels are unchanged.
As for the daily pads used on normal days, their price has reached around 15,000 Lebanese pounds. The prices of pads also vary from one shop to another. There are those who monopolize the kinds that no longer exist in the region and sell them at even more expensive prices, and there are those who clear out their goods based on the old prices. Then, there are those who set prices at their own whims and fancies, earning about 1,000 pounds from each item they sell, not to mention that the price of one pack varies by nearly 4,000 pounds from one shop to another. Thus, such a basic need for women is being treated as a source of quick and easy money first, and as something that isn’t even relevant to the daily life of every woman second. Therefore, a large majority of women in Lebanon, especially those who are below the middle class, are unable to afford the costs of their menstrual cycle.
I Want to Reach Menopause
Zahra, a 43-year-old unemployed woman who lives with her brother, the main breadwinner in the house, explains how she now economizes with sanitary pads. She says, “Before the economic collapse, I needed three packs of sanitary pads. Today, I only use a pack and a half. I rely on cleaning myself all day, rather than changing the pad.”
She adds, “My brother works as a guard, and I stay at home to take care of our mother. I expected to experience menopause after having reached this age, but my aunt told me that the women in our family continue to have our periods until a later age. In light of the economic collapse and my inability to provide for my own basic needs, and the bleeding that I cannot stop, I hope to reach menopause soon, because having a period is expensive.”
The Cost of the Uterus in Lebanon
Menstruation poverty is the inability of women to secure their basic needs during the menstrual period, whether it be through health products or those related to personal hygiene, down to a lack in water availability and the ability to shower.
The case of most Lebanese women today: Either I give up public transportation or I give up sanitary pads, feminine wash, and painkillers.
According to a report published by “Plan International” during April 2020, the assessment shows that among a group of more than 1,100 individuals living in vulnerable communities, an overwhelming 66% of Syrian and Lebanese “adolescent girls reported they do not have the financial means to buy hygiene pads”. This number is likely to rise even further as the economic collapse continues and individuals lose their jobs and purchasing power.
According to the “Girl Up Lebanon” group, which provides social services to women in Lebanon, “having a uterus in Lebanon costs about 200,000 pounds per month, if not more”.
The Past and Alternative Means
Gynecologists are asking girls to stop buying the “Féminic” feminine wash, which now costs about 50,000 Lebanese pounds in pharmacies, and on websites is being put up for sale at $54. Instead, they are advising women to use plain yogurt, a natural and organic wash, to maintain the vagina’s health and treat infections, because it contains probiotics and plenty of beneficial nutrients. Meanwhile, women who are unable to afford any of these products continue to look for alternatives.
Merchants in Lebanon are using menstruation to make their quick profit at the expense of bleeding women.
Soraya, 84, tells Raseef22 that in her youth she and her friends used to wash the pieces of cloth that they use during their menstrual period in secret. She explains further, “We put the white cloth in a pan full with hot water. We clean and disinfect it by boiling it, then hang it up on the rooftop to dry without any of the men seeing us, so that they wouldn't know the times of our menstrual cycle. On those days when we were bleeding, we would stay at home or work in the fields far away from everyone else.”
Today, decades later, a large majority of women, due to the economic collapse in Lebanon, are going back to hide in their homes during menstruation and are calculating the price of a single sanitary pad. This is because the Lebanese government stems from a patriarchal system at its very core and did not take the basic rights of women into account in light of the collapse, and because merchants in Lebanon are using menstruation to make their quick profit at the expense of bleeding women.
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