In the wake of natural disasters and calamities, government agencies and various organizations respond by transporting relief goods and emergency kits to affected areas.
The need for food and water, of course, is prioritized. However, there's one particular group of survivors who have specific needs related to their well-being.
What if a woman gets her period during a disaster?
The United Nations has emphasized the need to make disaster management gender-sensitive. For starters, women's panties and sanitary napkins or tampons should be included in emergency kits and relief donations.
In a 2012 statement, Philippine Commission on Women (PCW) executive director Emmeline L. Verzosa issued a statement urging "everyone involved in relief efforts" to "pay attention to the differential needs of women and men—particularly those of pregnant women and their children, the elderly, and persons with disabilities."
Verzosa added: "Donations should include women's personal hygiene needs such as sanitary napkins and underwear. Evacuation centers should prioritize privacy for women's comfort rooms and safety against gender-based violence."
A journalist's personal experience
The difficulty of obtaining panties and sanitary napkins following a disaster was documented by journalist Lottie Salarda in her article for InterAksyon.
Salarda—who had been in Tacloban City when Typhoon Yolanda hit in 2013—recalled that she had gotten her period when she was still in a disoriented state. She disclosed, "In a daze, I literally didn't know what to do. It was beyond feeling awkward and uneasy. It was a terribly, indescribably queasy state of a woman having her menstruation the day after the disaster."
She went on to say, "For women, experiencing this kind of personal travail right in the middle of a disaster is so very depressing. Such a situation makes me wonder if the disaster response authorities, DSWD, the humanitarian NGOs, truly appreciate this stark reality that unmet hygiene needs should seriously rank right up there in terms of priority with no-cook food packs and safe water."
Salarda emphasized, "We are not being frivolous talking or thinking about panties and undies in responding to disasters."
DOH highlights the need for "dignity kits"
In 2016, the Department of Health (DOH) issued an order that made it mandatory for women's "dignity kits" to be distributed during disasters and emergencies.
Each dignity kit is supposed to contain the following women's personal care items:
1. bath soap
2. laundry soap
7. sanitary napkins
9. face towel
10. bath towel
12. tissue roll
13. cotton balls
14. malong (a traditional "tube skirt" that has multiple uses)
Also in the kit are a pail, whistle, solar lamp with charger, alcohol, dipper, comb, and a chamber pot. Meanwhile, pregnant women or those who just have birth will also be given maternity pads, baby rubber mats, three sets of baby clothes, baby blanket, baby mittens, bonnets, and socks.
Sanitary pads can be used for other things, too!
In any case, it would also make sense for sanitary napkins to be included in all emergency kits, as they can also serve as improvised wound dressings.
In an ABS-CBN News feature, Philippine Coast Guard doctor Ted Esguerra recommended the use of sanitary napkins to cover wounds.