Women in Lebanon can no longer afford sanitary pads

Lebanon's disastrous economy situation has lead to period poverty
5 min read
05 August, 2021
Women and girls in Lebanon are struggling to afford menstrual products amid the country’s economic crisis, with many having to reuse disposable sanitary pads following the sharp rise in prices – turning a necessity into an unaffordable luxury.

Lebanon has been making headlines across the world this past year due to different protracted horrors unfolding over these last months.

Since the explosion at the Beirut port, the country has slipped into one of the world’s deepest depressions in recent history. With a failing and fast-falling local currency, citizens and residents have been made to suffer at the hands of the central bank and the non-functional government.

Along with the failing currency, the freeze on US dollars (previously used interchangeably on a daily basis with the local Lira), there has been hyperinflation on the price of goods, particularly imported goods (making up most of the market). Additionally, the government has been lifting subsidies on medications and basic goods, causing a spike in prices.

76.5% of women in Lebanon are experiencing issues purchasing menstrual products because of the price hike. A further 87.9% of them have changed their purchasing behaviour because the prices increased significantly while 79% of Lebanese women have noticed reduced consumption of menstruation items around them

For women, this crisis has brought a new difficulty, access to sanitary products for menstruation and as such putting them at a health risk. The price of a standard sanitary pad pack ranges between 13,000 and 34,000 Lebanese pounds, roughly up to £17. 

In absolute desperation, women are having to turn to other less hygienic methods including rags, old newspapers, and reusing single-use items. While this issue is affecting half the population, the severe lack of any sort of sexual health education is causing undue stigma and indifference to the situation.

A study conducted by Fe-Male and Plan International shows that about 42 percent of women in the country are no longer able to afford pads or tampons and have reduced or completely eliminated purchases. Some are resorting to improvised methods that are unsafe and put their health at risk.

This puts Lebanon squarely into what is called ‘Period Poverty’: this term does not only include issues of accessibility to these essential goods, frequently taxed throughout the world as a beauty product, but also to the affordability and availability of related items such as pain killers, birth control, and underwear.

The study continues and explains 76.5 percent of women in Lebanon are experiencing issues purchasing menstrual products because of the price hike. A further 87.9 percent of them have changed their purchasing behaviour because the prices increased significantly, while 79 percent of Lebanese women have noticed reduced consumption of menstruation items around them.

These statistics, while shocking, are believable; the price of menstrual products, specifically, pads and tampons, have increased by up to 320 percent. While this tackles the majority of imported items, local products have also increased in price due to inflation and the lack of subsidies.

While the state is causing the entire population to bleed, only one segment of the population is doing so in danger two-fold

Lebanese Economy and Trade Minister, Raoul Nehme, argued that materials used to make sanitary products would be subsidised and as such the local production would be cheaper and thus items sold at a lower cost.

However, there has been no reduction in the prices of locally made menstrual items. “The locally made products have been causing reactions (allergic) in some women. The quality is questionable at best; people have been complaining of inflammation and redness using locally made products,” explains Hiba Yassine, 28, from Beirut.

Nour Mady, 27, explains that tampons are out of the question as an option with one box costing up to the local equivalent of $10. She adds that friends are now sharing menstrual products with one another as even finding an open pharmacy is difficult some days.

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“So, in my case, I am lucky to have a menstrual cup and I don’t use pain killers, but from what I understand, even the very basic panadol is unavailable and the price of pads has (at the very least) quadrupled this month alone. There are no safe, reusable, alternatives, so it is getting dangerous for many women,” Rianna Tassabehji, 24, adds. “I am trying to raise awareness of natural painkillers such as herbs, and modifying diet, to minimise cramps as an alternative, but for many women that is not enough, they still need medication,” she continues.

While this issue affects women throughout the country from all socio-economic brackets, the issue is seemingly trivialised by the governing power. This highlights the patriarchal battle women are confronted with even in times of abject poverty, somehow, women still suffer more.

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The lack of sexual health education has caused the public to believe that the lack of birth control, for example, is unrelated to menstrual needs where in fact, particularly in this region, birth control is used for the regulation of painful or abnormal periods.

From social media, some from the general population highlight this ignorance: some holding the belief that women use one pad per month, and as such, the price hike is no issue. Others referenced that the country is faced with bigger problems than periods.

The struggle women in the region face against patriarchal leaders and their implied ignorance and sexism in policy is a real challenge and the events unfolding in Lebanon are a testament to this. In many households today, not only is there a lack of basic amenities such as water and electricity, giving rise to sanitation concerns, but to medications and menstrual products as well. While the state is causing the entire population to bleed, only one segment of the population is doing so in danger two-fold.

Nadine Sayegh is a multidisciplinary writer and researcher covering the Arab world. She has covered topics including gender in the region, countering violent extremism, the Occupied Palestinian Territories, amongst other social and political issues.