In Lebanon, women fight period poverty and taboos to promote menstrual health
Safe and affordable menstrual hygiene products are essential to ensuring the sexual and reproductive health of women, girls and all people who menstruate. But for those without sufficient economic resources, obtaining access to such products is an ongoing struggle. Known as period poverty, this lack of access—exacerbated by longstanding taboos around menstruation—remains a key barrier to menstrual health around the world. It can also have social and economic consequences, forcing those who can’t afford menstrual hygiene products to stay home from work or school while menstruating.
In Lebanon, where worsening economic conditions have hit women and girls hard, period poverty is on the rise. The Lebanese social enterprise Roof and Roots, with support from ACTED and UN Women as well as funding from the Government of Japan, has been working to address this problem on two fronts, training and employing local women to manufacture and distribute affordable menstrual products. With locations in Jabal Mohsen, Tripoli and Saida, Beirut, the organization also facilitates discussions and educational sessions with women and girls, helping to break taboos around menstruation and reproductive health. By March 2022, the team had produced an initial batch of 13,500 packs of such products, selling them door-to-door and distributing a percentage of revenue to vulnerable women in the area.
Tripoli locals Hiba Mohammad Hussein, 34, and Itab Bayoud, 46, have both faced period poverty and menstrual stigma in their own lives. Now working with Roof and Roots, they are helping to ensure other women and girls don’t have the same experiences. Find their first-hand accounts below.
“The increasing prices of menstrual hygienic products have seriously affected us.”
Hiba Mohammad Hussein, a mother of two, has been her family’s main provider since her husband was injured in a military clash in 2015. She used to work as a driving instructor, until the increasing price of fuel made it too difficult to make ends meet. She began working with Roof and Roots in 2021, making sanitary products and raising awareness on reproductive health.
One of the issues affecting my community is period poverty. The increasing prices of menstrual hygienic products have seriously affected us as women and affected me personally and my daughter. I have tried reusable cloth menstrual products, but my daughter did not feel comfortable using them. There was a time, last summer, when menstrual hygienic products where not even available in grocery stores.
Last year I read on social media about the social enterprise Roof and Roots in Jabal Mohsen, Tripoli, and their work to set up a unit producing sanitary products. I applied to help their work and joined a group of women and girls who received vocational training and short-term employment opportunities. I was hired to work specifically on marketing the sanitary pads produced, which is interesting to me since I studied marketing but have never had a marketing job.
I began my work with them by receiving trainings on issues related to menstrual hygiene and gender awareness, labor law and employability skills. As part of the sellers’ group, I also received sales and marketing trainings. When the training ended, I began to visit families in their homes where I hosted discussions—attended by all present women and girls under the age of 55—on period poverty and menstrual hygiene. After each session, I promoted our sanitary product, called “Rose”, and began selling it door-to door.
Unfortunately, in many parts of the country we are still bound by norms and harmful traditions that perpetuate inaccurate information about menstruation. Thanks to this work, we have been able to provide health awareness sessions to women across generations, to adult women and to young girls who are beginning to speak up and correct misconceptions about menstruation. This is important. We need to create safe spaces for adolescent girls to discuss their reproductive health with experts, to allow them to properly discover their bodies and understand the physical and hormonal changes they experience. It is about time for girls to stop being scared whenever they get their periods, and for them to understand how to deal with it.
“We need to raise our children believing that women’s reproductive health is not a taboo.”
Itab Bayoud, a mother of four, has dedicated her life to caring for her family. Determined to gain financial independence and help make ends meet, she took a job with Roof and Roots. Trained as a manufacturer, Itab reflects on her work and challenging social taboos around women’s reproductive health.
The economic crisis has hit everyone living in Lebanon hard and has hit women the hardest. With prices increasing, going out or buying anything that is not essential has become a luxury I can no longer afford. Amongst other cuts we had to make to get by were disposable menstrual hygiene products, which affected my two daughters. We could not afford them, particularly as the costs were continually increasing. At first, I began by asking my daughters to keep the sanitary pads in for longer hours before realizing it could lead to infections, then I tried using old cloth – which also came with hygiene risks.
When my neighbor told me that the sanitary pads manufacturing project was offering paid jobs, I decided to try and join. I was selected and during an initial training phase, we were taught how to operate the machines that produced the different parts of the pads, as well as the steps needed to store them safely. This job provided me with the financial independence I have always aspired to. With the money I have made, I have been able to provide for myself and my children.
I am aware of the stigma around menstruation and women’s reproductive health. As I worked on manufacturing the sanitary pads, I became much more mindful of period poverty and how it was affecting many women. Unfortunately, most of them are too afraid to speak about it because it is deemed shameful.
Growing up, my mother would not tell my father that I had my period. Instead, she would ask him for money “to get Itab something private”. I am convinced that menstruation is not a shame. We need to raise our boys and girls into believing that women’s reproductive health is not taboo.