BY Dana Zhang
Dana Zhang, June 2022
In the past three months, Ukraine’s resistance to Russia has captivated people in Taiwan, who have shown their support with significant donations. The Taiwanese Ministry of Foreign Affairs raised 33 million dollars in a month from individuals for Ukraine, while countless local NGOs initiated channels for donations. The support from Taiwan is massive and comprehensive; at least one NGO has raised concerns about period poverty, calling for sanitary product donations.
This effort in collecting period products is part of widespread global action supporting the menstrual needs of Ukrainians. Both businesses and NGOs such as I Support the Girls and Aunt Flow from North America, have donated tens of thousands of period products so far. Meanwhile, the Belgian hygiene products company, Ontex, has donated more than 1 million personal hygiene items for refugees from Ukraine. The Pachamama project, which aims to provide reusable sanitary pads for refugees, was initiated in the UK. The project started with donating period pads to Ukraine, later expanding its coverage to refugees in Greece, Lebanon, Turkey, Syria, the UK and the USA. These applaudable efforts in addressing the priority needs of women and girls recognize the importance of access to sexual and reproductive health.
However, Ukraine is not the only country where people have lost their homes and become refugees in the past 12 months.
The airstrikes in Myanmar continued internally after the coup in February 2022; the conflict in the country has displaced 1 in 100 citizens. According to recent data provided by the UN Refugee Agency, there are 2.2 million refugees and asylum-seekers from Afghanistan. Are the basic needs of women from both countries also in the sight of international humanitarian aid and media? The short answer is yes, but the truth is “not in such an impressive way.”
Period poverty was a serious issue in both Myanmar and Afghanistan even before their crises. Women and girls, especially those in remote areas, lack access to menstrual education and menstrual products as well as safe, private, and clean toilets and facilities for changing and washing. The current ongoing humanitarian aid that addresses their menstrual needs falls in meeting the increasing demands of the displaced population from both countries. Scattered sanitary product donations have been conducted, but none of them can be compared to similar actions for Ukraine.
Myanmar and Afghanistan are among many countries where people have suffered from political and economic crises, especially after the coronavirus pandemic. Tragedies cannot be compared, but it is noticeable how global media coverage and donation campaigns have responded to the tragedies in such different ways, further leading to enormous gaps in resource allocation.
I root for all the actions addressing the menstrual needs of Ukrainian refugees. Yet, it is also worth considering how to strike a balance with limited resources when addressing injustices both in the Global South and the Global North.