Menstrual hygiene is integral to women's health and has a lasting impact on women's education, livelihoods and security: keystones to their empowerment. It is clear, however, that little or no account is taken of the issue of menstrual hygiene in humanitarian response plans for refugees. As part of the WSSCC/UN Women Joint Programme on Gender, Hygiene and Sanitation in West and Central Africa, a study was conducted by the Demographic Education and Research Institute (IFORD) in refugee camps in Cameroon. It looked into the difficulties that women experience during their menstrual periods and reported on water, sanitation and hygiene infrastructure in the camps. The study reveals infrastructure gaps: not only are toilets not separated for men and women, there are not enough of them for the numbers living in the camps. All the women surveyed regretted the lack of space to change and manage their personal hygiene. The toilets are difficult to use during their periods due to there being insufficient water, no washing lines and no sanitary equipment. They also complained about toilets usually not having lockable doors or even any door at all. They are often unlit at night, increasing the risk of assault. Due to the current state of the latrines in refugee sites, 99% of women do not feel safe in them. The survey also looked into the types of sanitary protection used by refugee women: despite a diverse range (not only sanitary towels, but also scraps of cloth, cotton, handkerchiefs, etc.), one type of protection is preferred: single-use sanitary towels distributed by UNHCR. However, there is a lack of suitable places to dispose of these: only about a third of women get rid of them in rubbish bins, while others throw them down the toilet, behind their houses or even into rivers.
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