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Sanitary protection

We have just received a donation from a women’s organisation in the Netherlands to procure sanitary materials for our women beneficiaries but I have no idea what to purchase. I’ve asked a few female colleagues (national and international) but get conflicting replies. I don’t want to waste the funds on something that won’t be used. What would you recommend that I supply? I am also unsure of the amount I shall need.

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First ask your beneficiaries what they want! A female staff member (with a translator as necessary) should meet with representative women’s groups from among the beneficiaries.

Be aware that different ethnicities/religions and age groups may have different preferences, so different meetings should take place with different groups. For example, during the aid operation for displaced people in Rakhine state in Myanmar, such field research showed very different preferences between Muslim and Buddhist women, and between older women and younger women/girls in the Buddhist population. All three types of protection (pads, reusable cloths and tampons respectively) were then procured and distributed. Therefore if you find such a difference, before you finalise your procurement you will need an estimated demographic breakdown to work out how many of each type of sanitary protection you will need.

Take local advice on the age range you should cater for in your estimates of needs: e.g. 15-50 years or 12-45. The total typically works out as 40-60% of the beneficiary population. Some forms of protection (pads, tampons) are disposable and will need resupplying each month, whereas others, such as washable cloths, last several months and need replacing less often. You should also take advice from your meetings on the quantities needed each month.

Consider also the other aspects of coping with menstruation in dignity:

  • If possible, at the first distribution you should supply extra pairs of underpants (say 2 pairs per woman), laundry/bathing soap and an extra bucket for washing (so as not to contaminate a bucket used for potable water).

  • Women who are habituated to using washable cloths may be deterred from using these in a camp situation if they have nowhere to wash and dry the cloths discreetly, out of sight of men. This can be cured by screening off a women’s laundry area equipped with drying lines/racks.

  • If you have special schools for your beneficiary population, ensure that schools are equipped with facilities for the discreet disposal of disposable materials, so that girls are not inhibited from going to school during their periods.

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