By Lynette Nyman/IFRC, Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh
Here, we are all women, says Nur Jahan, 35. “When we have our masik (period), we rest at home. Sometimes it hurts.”
Nur Juhan is one of thousands of women and girls – more than 357,000 – who have fled violence and crossed from Myanmar to Bangladesh during the past six months.
The conversation follows a distribution of dignity kits at a make-shift tent camp in southeast Bangladesh. The kits come with items created and sourced for this context: one in which women and girls live at home, inside their huts and, if they have them, rely on fathers, brothers or sons, for protection and provisions.
The women and girls we met fled quickly on a boat to the border and then walked to the camp. They left with only their best clothing, usually one item, and certainly had nothing for managing menstrual hygiene.
“Thank you for the cloth – it will really help,” says Nur Jahan. The cloth – which is large, red, washable and re-usable – came about because of conversations between aid workers who focus on protection, gender, and inclusion during emergency response, and women in the camps, who said what they needed and what would work best for them.
Six months after the 25 August 2017 clashes that triggered the exodus of 688,000 people from Myanmar, the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society, supported by the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies (IFRC) has reached 254,000 people with life-saving emergency assistance including shelter materials, food, water and healthcare including emotional support for adults and children.
The dignity kit is different from standardised, mass distributions, says Christina Haneef, the IFRC Protection, Gender and Inclusion delegate.
“A dignity kit is a personal item for an individual woman, not a regular non-food item for the entire household. It allows us to reach women and girls with relief items that are culturally specific.”
Forty-five thousand women and girls will receive dignity kits. In addition to feminine hygiene items, the kits come with two scarves, a long dress, underwear, sandals and a solar torch. The clothes cover arms and legs, allowing women and girls to venture out into public spaces in the camps. The flashlight will help them move about at night, including to latrines.
Aside from the seriousness of needing safety and protection, there’s the joy of receiving something new and beautiful.
The smile on Nur Begum’s face is a gift for everyone else in her hut. Her confident expression shows true happiness as she tries on a scarf and holds up a dress to see how they fit.
“I can wear the clothes, use the torch and sandals. And clean my body with the soap,” she says.
In addition to the kits, IFRC and the Bangladesh Red Crescent Society aid workers are sharing information with women and girls about safe spaces, skills training, and other protection support available to them.