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Λογότυπος της Ευρωπαϊκής Επιτροπής
European Civil Protection and Humanitarian Aid Operations

Bangladesh: homemade sanitary pads help young refugee women with menstrual hygiene

Adolescent girls sewing sanitary pads.
Adolescent girls sewing sanitary pads.
© Sina Hasan/DRC Bangladesh

The refugee camps in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, are home to over 200,000 Rohingya families who fled across the border from Myanmar to seek refuge in 2017. Approximately a million displaced Rohingya people live in this area, half of whom are women and girls.  

Menstrual hygiene is integral to women's health and wellbeing. Poor menstrual hygiene can pose serious health risks, like reproductive and urinary tract infections, which can result in future infertility and birth complications. 

With EU humanitarian funding, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) works in the Rohingya refugee camps to help women stay clean and prevent infections.

“We have no money to buy sanitary pads, so we used to use old clothes, which caused a lot of itching and infections,” says Minara, a 33-year-old Rohingya woman who lives in one of the refugee camps.

“2 years ago, a non-profit organisation gave us some disposable pads. We used them for a few months before they ran out.” 

“Feminine hygiene is often overlooked in our camp,” says 18-year-old Yasmin. “As a result, girls and women are left to manage their periods on their own. Many people are compelled to reuse old rags. And it is not something we discuss with anyone.”

She is one of a growing number of adolescent girls in the camps who can now sew and safely use their sanitary pads to benefit of their health, wellbeing and dignity. 

Group of people
© DRC Bangladesh

Idea sparked by tragic death 

A year ago, Shamsun Nahar, a young woman in the Rohingya settlements, died of rectal cancer at the age of 25. According to her neighbours, she also had other complications, such as a urinary infection.

Her tragic death made a huge impact on the local community of Rohingya women, who started to raise concerns about feminine hygiene among themselves. 

Not long after Shamsun’s passing, a group of women came up with an idea to produce sanitary pads for themselves and other women in the camp. The goal is to stay clean and prevent infections.

With EU humanitarian funding, the Danish Refugee Council (DRC) took the initiative to make it happen. 

By the end of March, 14 girls from an adolescent girls’ group received both materials and training on how to sew and safely use reusable sanitary pads.

Girls sitting on the ground making reusable sanitary pads.
Rohingya refugee girls learn how to make reusable sanitary pads.
© DRC Bangladesh

“We now know how to make our own reusable sanitary pads, thanks to DRC’s training and materials,” says 16-year-old Nur Kalima. “If we can't maintain good hygiene practices, our entire lives will be endangered. It is especially important for adolescent girls like us to maintain good hygiene practicesto stay in good health. 

Homemade sanitary pads, made from cloth
The homemade sanitary pads, made from cloth, can be washed and reused according to proper hygienic instructions.
© Sina Hasan/ DRC Bangladesh.

 Along with training in sewing their own pads, the 14 girls received cloth, scissors, needles, underwear and other materials to make and use the reusable sanitary pads. Instructions on the safe use and hygiene maintenance of the pads were also provided.

“We follow hygiene instructions from doctors,” says DRC staff and trainer Joynab Akter. “The women are advised to change pads within 4 to 6 hours. We also teach them how to wash the pads and dry them properly. We are really happy to see their awareness rising to the benefit of their health.” 

Techniques and awareness widely spread 

Although only 14 girls received the original training, many more displaced women and girls benefit from it. The group produced more than 3,000 pads for girls and women in their community while helping spread awareness on the topic.

They also share the pad-making techniques, o that other women and girls can make them and teach others.  

“We distributed pads to family members and neighbours, and everyone was satisfied,” says Yasmin. 

When women and girls are protected, the benefits extend to their families, communities, and eventually to the entire camp. 

“It is of no use to be shy – we must share the hygiene awareness among girls and women in the camp, otherwise more will suffer.” 

Minara, 33, Cox’s Bazar 

Story by Sina Hasan, communications specialist, Danish Refugee Council (DRC) Bangladesh.
Publication date: 11/08/2022