ATHENS, West Virginia — After the U.S. decision to withdraw from Afghanistan, many were left wondering what would happen to those living there. These concerns heightened after the Taliban gained control of the capital, Kabul.
An aspect of life that often goes unaddressed is period poverty, which has been defined by the American Medical Women’s Association as “inadequate access to menstrual hygiene tools and education, including but not limited to sanitary products, washing facilities and waste management.”
Period poverty in Afghanistan after the U.S. withdrawal has had a number of negative impacts on the lives of Afghan women and girls, especially after the Taliban took control in August.
Overview of Period Poverty in Afghanistan
Afghan girls lack access to menstrual products and education not just at home, but in school as well. Because of that, nearly 30% miss school due to their period, according to a 2014 UNICEF study, blaming the lack of necessary supplies, like clean water, on campuses.
Nearly half of women and girls are left in the dark when it comes to menstruation in the first place since education in such areas is virtually non-existent. Infection risk is also higher since 70% do not shower during their period. Many also use unhygienic methods of managing their monthly cycle, such as dirty rags.
By offering “better access to information and the ability to safely manage their monthly menstrual cycle with privacy and dignity, women and girls can have full access to education, employment and sports, and become productive members of the society,” said Aryan Sayeed, a singer and women’s rights activist from Afghanistan, based on the translation of a video shared by Real Relief.
Organizations like Safepad are taking the initiative to end the social and health issues that leave many young girls and women unable to attend school. The situation hasn’t improved since the American withdrawal, prompting Real Relief — which manufactures a number of products, including a reusable sanitary pad called Safepad — to readjust its approach to alleviating period poverty.
Trine Angeline Sig and Safepad
Real Relief’s mission with Safepad, according to organization co-founder and managing director Trine Angeline Sig, is to create a product with unique technology containing the world’s “first permanent antimicrobial treatment, consisting of carbon atoms permanently bonded to its positively charged nitrogen and silica.”
“Safepad has been designed in such a way that it sterilizes itself after washing,” Sig told The Borgen Project, thus eliminating “negatively charged pathogens, such as bacteria and fungi.” Sig has more than 20 years of aid and relief experience, working with U.N. organizations and non-governmental organizations Real Relief now partners with to create a number of products, including the Safepad.
“Safepad addresses many of the major problematic issues surrounding the WASH initiative,” Sig added, referring to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention program promoting adequate water, sanitation and hygiene in parts of the world where it is not happening. The pads are not only environmentally friendly, they do not “require the same resource investments on a monthly basis,” and are better than low-cost, lower-quality disposable pads.
Real Relief has partnered with groups like UNICEF, providing hygiene and dignity kits, which Sig describes as “a small drop in a big ocean to help end period poverty.”
Impact of U.S. Withdrawal from Afghanistan
In light of supply chain disruptions following the Taliban takeover, women and girls cannot easily access menstrual products in Afghanistan, further exacerbating period poverty there. Real Relief halted Safepad production on November 16, as the company awaits approval from the Taliban to continue its business, Sig said.
That has not only stopped the distribution of such necessary hygiene products, it has also cost jobs and income for the women employed by the company in Kabul.
Still, Safepad seeks to fulfill its mission of empowering women and girls through its Afghanistan Dansk Kvinde Forening project — “My First Period” — by distributing 4,000 packages of Safepad in cooperation with the Afghan Women Resource Center. The “My First Period” project was announced at the 10th anniversary AidEx 2021: The Global Humanitarian Aid Event in Brussels.
What Do the Recent Events Mean for the End of Period Poverty in Afghanistan?
Between the U.S. withdrawal from Afghanistan and the Taliban taking control of Kabul, groups aiming to alleviate the negative impacts of period poverty, such as Real Relief, are experiencing some setbacks, especially with Safepad halting production.
However, there is still hope to provide women and girls with the necessary products to have safe and informed periods through crowdsourcing and donations, which could help alleviate period poverty in Afghanistan.
– Grace Watson