The experience of menstruation is universal, everyday life with it is not

That time of the month again – the experience of menstruation is universal, everyday life with it is not

“If you don’t have reliable period protection, you won’t want to come to school. I strongly share this experience with girls I have met in refugee settlements in Uganda”, writes Elisa Rimaila, Communications Specialist at FCA.

“DO YOU REMEMBER how it started? I only remember how thick and uncomfortable the first menstrual pads my mother gave me were. I didn’t dare move normally or lie on my back for fear of leaking. That same week my parents also gave me a Gameboy, a games console, which I used to play so much Tetris for the next week that I forgot about my period.

The experience of the onset of menstruation is something that most girls and women born into the world have in common. There is life before “them” and then this part that forces you to count life in about three-week chunks.

On a recent work-related trip to Uganda, I heard once again how menstruation is disrupting the schooling of too many girls. If there is no proper menstrual protection, school is a pain. I strongly share this experience with girls I meet in refugee settlements in Uganda. I was only 11 years old when I started my period, but I learned early on during my period to look at the back of my trousers in mirrors and windowpanes. I was afraid that blood would stain my clothes so that someone would see.

In Uganda, girls told me of the mocking songs sung by boys. They targeted classmates whose clothes were stained, revealing the fact they were menstruating. Some of the bullying is surely the result of ignorance on the part of teenage boys. Still, it is worth remembering the inequality that girls around the world face because of their periods.

Menstruation is still a taboo subject

IT IS LUDICROUS to think that every four weeks your period can prevent you from doing something as important as going to school. There are many reasons. Menstrual pads are too expensive, or otherwise unavailable for families to buy.

Or in many places, all sorts of beliefs about impurity are still associated with menstruation. The pressure these beliefs exert prevents girls and women from participating in normal daily life, for example, eating meals and sleeping nears family members, not to mention going to school or places of worship. Isolation not only causes feelings of hatred and rejection, but also real physical danger. In Nepal, for example, girls in so-called ‘Chhaupadi’ isolation die every year from snake bites or other accidents.

WHAT DID I SAY to the girls in the Rwamwanja refugee settlement who told me that they had been taunted by boys because of the bloodstains? I reminded them that menstruation is really about how incredibly strong we women are: we bleed a tremendous amount of blood, but we don’t die from it.

Although at the same time, I have to admit that I took some pills to delay the start of menstruation during my trip to Uganda. The thought of having my period during the trip is still, in my forties, quite unbearable. Avoiding periods is possible because I happen to be born in Finland and I can choose when my periods come to interfere with things that are important to me. Not everyone has that privilege.

Menstrual Hygiene Day is observed annually on May 28th. The day is dedicated to breaking taboos and raising awareness about the importance of good menstrual hygiene management (MHM).

Not feeling alone is crucial for survivors of gender-based violence

Not feeling alone is crucial for survivors of gender-based violence

Finn Church Aid (FCA) works against gender-based violence in the Central African Republic by connecting survivors to healthcare services and psychosocial counselling.

WHEN ZITA KOUALET started her work as FCA’s psychosocial counsellor in Baboua, the hardest part was getting survivors of gender-based violence to consider sharing what they had gone through.

Koualet and her colleagues provide the first response in cases of rape, sexual harassment, or domestic violence in Baboua, Central African Republic. The project has been running for three years with UN Refugee Agency UNHCR funding. After careful awareness-raising in the community, people know how to approach Koualet in cases of violence or abuse.

“We pay for any transport or medical needs and provide counselling that focuses on the mental well-being. We can also help people file cases when they have been wronged”, she says.

“After that, the survivors are offered counselling. The more they feel they are supported, the more comfortable they are opening up about their experience and feel how it helps them move forward.”

Koulaet and her team also record the cases from their area in UNHCR’s database. Based on the countrywide data, NGOs know the needs and can tailor their responses nationwide.

Early marriage a key issue that leads to violence

Koualet mentions that early marriage is one of the core issues that leads to violence against women. When women are married off young, they are forced to interrupt their education – if they were in school in the first place. If women do not receive an education, they often end up staying at home doing housework and taking care of children, making them dependent on their husbands.

If a girl and her family refuse a marriage proposal, they might face consequences. In many cases of sexual violence, the perpetrator is someone they know from before, Koualet explains.

Usually, women with their own income suffer less from gender-based violence, which is why education is critical to preventing cases.

“Early marriage greatly slows down the development of young girls here. We work hard to discourage this custom and promote the benefits of education instead”, Koualet says.

After careful awareness-raising in the community in Baboua in Central African Republic, people know how to approach Zita Koualet in cases of violence or abuse.

Several of Koualet’s clients in Baboua, near the border to Cameroon, are only teenagers. One of them is 14-year-old Sylvaine. She was raped on her way home from an early evening event in her village. The assailant was a man who had earlier proposed to marry her, but Sylvaine and her family had declined.

“I had refused to marry because I wanted to continue my studies. Not too much later, I met the man when I was on my way home in the dark, and he assaulted me”, she says.

Sylvaine was first afraid to speak about the rape with anyone, but when she started feeling sick, she decided to confide in her sister. Her sister persuaded Sylvaine to talk to her mother, who had heard about FCA through an awareness campaign. FCA’s staff immediately took her to the hospital.

The doctor who treated her injuries quickly told Sylvaine she was pregnant.

“Our first thought was that we wanted to press charges against the perpetrator, but we decided that it would be disadvantageous for my future, my studies and marriage potential”, Syvlaine says.

Counselling comforts and helps building a way forward 

The mental health consequences of gender-based violence are often paralysing. Ana is a 30-year-old single mother who takes care of her five children alone after divorcing her husband a few years earlier. Ana used to run a successful business as a vendor at the weekly market near the town of Bouar.

One day, she was assaulted and robbed by members of an armed group. They beat Ana and took all her possessions. Forced down on the ground, the men accused her of collaborating with another armed group. After driving over her with their motorcycles, they left her lying on the road.

“I lost all the money I had for supporting my children. They are now out of school, and during the month after the assault, I have not been able to work”, she says.

Some materials from FCA's and UNHCR's dignity kit in are spread on the table. There is a bucket, a box with a picture of a torch, a whistle, a paper bag, two pairs of women's underwear and a white mosquito net on the table.
A dignity kit distributed to women in Baboua, Central African Republic contains a mosquito net, torch, underwear and other necessities, including a whistle to raise alarm in case of an attack.

The people who found Ana referred her to FCA, who took her to treatment for her injuries and covered her hospital costs. Ana still feels pain in her ribs and back but is able to walk. While still fearing to visit the local market, Ana feels grateful for the psychosocial support she receives weekly.

“Thanks to that, I have been able to live, and the hospital helped me back on my feet”, she says.

Ana and Sylvaine say that the most important reason for their recovery is understanding that they are not alone. Sylvaine also says that the counselling has been comforting and helped her realise that what happened to her was not her fault. Her goal is now to go back to school and continue her education.

“Speaking with the counsellors has made me realise I also want to work with something that makes a difference. Caring for my child does not stop me. My siblings and mother will support me”, Sylvaine says.

The names of the survivors of gender-based violence have been changed due to the sensitive nature of their stories.

Text: Erik Nyström
Photos: Björn Udd

Sign the #CeasefireNOW petition with us

Sign the #CeasefireNOW petition with us

Finn Church Aid is one of 670 organisations from 80 countries to call for an Immediate Ceasefire in the Gaza Strip and Israel to Prevent a Humanitarian Catastrophe and Further Loss of Innocent Lives.

WE HAVE WITNESSED unfathomable death and destruction in the Gaza Strip and Israel. Thousands of people have been killed, injured, displaced, and nearly two hundred remain held hostage, including children and elderly.

In Gaza, the UN has said that water, food, fuel, medical supplies, and even body bags, are running out due to the siege. The UN warned that people – particularly young children – will soon start dying of severe dehydration. Neighbourhoods have been destroyed and turned into complete rubble. Palestinians in search of safety have nowhere to go. Many of those who relocated from northern Gaza to the south after the relocation order by the Israeli army were reportedly bombed as they attempted to flee or once they arrived in southern Gaza.  

The events of the last week have led us to the precipice of a humanitarian catastrophe and the world can no longer wait to act. It is our collective responsibility.

ON SUNDAY, October 15th, the United Nations Humanitarian Coordinator to the Occupied Palestinian Territory appealed to all parties to the conflict, and to Member States with influence, to urgently agree to a humanitarian ceasefire.

Today, we put our voices together and call on all Heads of State, the UN Security Council, and actors on the ground, to prioritize the preservation of human life above all else. During this ceasefire, we call on all parties to unconditionally:

  1. Facilitate the delivery of lifesaving assistance, including food, medical supplies, fuel, and the resumption of electricity and internet to Gaza, in addition to safe passage of humanitarian and medical staff  
  2. Free all civilian hostages, especially children and elderly
  3. Allow humanitarian convoys to reach UN facilities, schools, hospitals, and health facilities in northern Gaza and commit to protecting them along with the civilians and staff inside them at all times
  4. Rescind orders by the Government of Israel for civilians to depart northern Gaza
  5. Allow patients in critical condition to be medically evacuated for urgent care

The UN Security Council, the UN Secretary General and all world leaders with influence must take immediate action to ensure a ceasefire comes into effect. It remains our only option to avert further loss of civilian life and humanitarian catastrophe. Anything less will forever be a stain on our collective conscience.

Civilians are not bargaining chips. Families need a chance to bury and mourn their dead. The cycle of violence against innocent civilians needs to stop.

Join thousands in calling for a #CeasefireNOW in the Gaza Strip and Israel. Sign and share the petition and demand the protection of civilians NOW.

You can sign the petition here.

Why support women in developing countries?

It’s particularly important to support women in developing countries – but why?

There are still too many women and girls in the world who don’t have the chance to learn to read or count. Without their contribution, half of the population’s potential remains unused.

CHANGE STARTS with your family. Then it can spread to your village and the whole community,” says Irene Kiplagat Koskei Rugut, 48.

Chief Irene, as she is known in her home village of Barpelo in Baringo, northwest Kenya, has been at the forefront of her community’s fight against female genital mutilation (FGM). It has not been a simple or easy road, but Irene is passionate about her cause.

“It happened to me when I was 15 years old. I know what it’s like to be mutilated and how it affects your life and being a woman,” she says.

Irene did not want the same fate for her daughters or anyone else’s children. It’s not just about health or the effects of mutilation on a woman’s body. In many cases, FGM means the end of a girl’s schooling. Afterward, many girls are not allowed to finish their schooling, which affects their lifelong livelihood prospects.

A woman in a green shirt with the FCA logo stands in front of a number of other women in similar shirts. They are outside and wearing traditional east African wraps.
In northwestern Kenya, in the Kerion Valley, female genital mutilation is part of a girl’s growth into womanhood. Mutilation is a violent tradition that causes lifelong harm to girls and pain that affects everyday life. Irene Kiplagat Koskei Rugut, 48, has herself had to live with injuries caused by mutilation and has spoken in her own community in the village of Barpelo in support of stopping mutilation and being allowed to go to school. Photo: Antti Yrjönen / FCA

Educated girls grow up to be women who can learn a trade, rather than having to live on agriculture alone. Now that the village of Barpelo is also severely affected by climate change, a profession other than traditional livestock farming would provide security. When a woman has a profession, she is not dependent on her husband’s or family’s money.

After initial challenges, Irene has won over most of the people of Barpelo. There is hardly any mutilation of girls here anymore. Irene is happy. Her own daughter has a university degree and already has a good job in the local government.

Discrimination against women starts in childhood

Women make up roughly half of the world’s population. Yet women face many forms of gender discrimination and physical threats; at work, in their communities and even at home. Women can rightly be said to be at a disadvantage compared to men in many parts of the world.

In many cases, exclusion and discrimination against women starts to build up in childhood. For example, in some cultures, the education of girl children is seen as a waste of time and money. If parents have to choose whether to send a boy or a girl to school, sometimes culture and antiquated beliefs lead them to prefer the boy. This idea is built on traditions where only men have full rights to decide their own affairs – and often also those of women and girls.

However, putting girls who grow up to be women in an unequal and inferior position ignores the fact that whole families and communities are losing half of their full potential. Development, prosperity and peace cannot be achieved if half of people are excluded from society and its decision-making processes.

The idea of supporting women in particular through development cooperation became stronger in the 1980s. The special status and needs of women and girls is still at the heart of development cooperation work in FCA’s country of origin – Finland. And no wonder, equality has a long tradition in Finnish society. But this has not always been the case.

Equality is the result of progress, it does not come automatically or for free. It is a social innovation, which has brought renewal and prosperity to society through the contributions of both women and men. Finland advocates a global commitment to equality. It wants to redefine the concept and put equality back in the spotlight.

Schoolchildren hold up their hands to show different numbers of fingers in a classroom
In Syria, the education of girls and all other children has already suffered from the effects of a decade of war. War has destroyed and damaged schools. In addition, the large number of internal refugees and ongoing security concerns have made it difficult, especially for girls, to access quality education. Photo: Erik Nyström / FCA

Girls’ education is changing the world

There are still too many women in the world who never had the chance to learn to read or count. Without basic skills, people can miss out on important information about their rights and opportunities to participate in their communities and decision-making. They may be exploited financially and physically. Or they may not know how to seek help for health, financial or social-related problems even if they are entitled to help.

Above all, the lack of access to quality education shackles people to poverty. Millions of people in the world, especially in developing countries, depend on livestock or other forms of agriculture. Their already meagre livelihoods can be severely disrupted by sudden shocks, such as global pandemics like Covid-19 or weather events caused by climate change.

That is why it is important that girls also have access to schooling. With an education, girls become women who know their rights. This will enable them to use the knowledge and skills they have learned in a variety of ways to secure their own and their families’ livelihoods.

Education also protects girls from early marriage and pregnancy. Interrupted schooling, on the other hand, increases the risk of teenage pregnancies and child marriages. This is why FCA supports girls’ education and their return to school, especially in disaster and crisis situations.

Educated women are also more likely to put their own children through school. They keenly understand the importance of those crucial early years in school for their future well-being. So in a way, education is multiplied, especially by educating girls and women.

A woman and a man sit at tables with sewing machines posing for the camera
Salina Chaudhary, 25, who trained as a seamstress with the FCA’s support, has created a sustainable livelihood for herself and her husband Yubaraj Chaudhary in Gauriganga municipality in the far west of Nepal. Salina says her husband supported entrepreneurship. “I have become more financially independent and was able to support my husband as well. Now he can sew too and we work together. We make good money, especially during the wedding season.” Photo: Uma Bista / FCA

Peace needs women

The war in Ukraine has shown brutally how rape and sexual violence – mostly, but not exclusively towards women – are very much a part of warfare. But women are not just victims of war. In the context of conflict, women can play an important and leading role in peace processes. Women can work for peace not only at grassroots level, but also in higher levels of government.

In March 2023, the Finnish Ministry of Foreign Affairs published its new Women, Peace and Security Action Plan, which FCA is also committed to implementing. The main objectives of the Action Plan include strengthening women’s meaningful participation and gender perspective in conflict prevention and peace negotiations, the security sector, crisis management and preparedness.

FCA has long supported women’s participation in local governance and peace processes. One example is in Somalia, where decision-making is largely dominated by male-dominated clans. Traditionally, women, youth and marginalised groups are excluded from decision-making processes. Our advocacy work since 2016 has resulted in 16 women being elected as members of five new regional councils. FCA has also provided leadership training to over 700 women leaders.

A woman in a meeting speaks to a man sitting next to her
Maryam Sheikh Hassan Jama (centre) was one of the women elected to local government supported by FCA’s peace work in the Galkacyo region of Somalia in 2021. The project has received EU funding. Photo: Nur Hassan Abdulle/FCA

At the grassroots level, women, especially mothers, have played an important role in peace work. In Kenya’s Kerio Valley, where FCA works for peace, when a woman becomes a mother, she receives a wide leather belt. The gift is often decorated with shells by her mother or another woman in her community. The purpose of the belt is to aid recovery from childbirth, but it also has symbolic, trans-tribal significance. In times of violence, women come together to discuss issues. The old custom is for mothers to place their belts on the ground in front of them. The symbolic line is not allowed to be crossed, but is there to protect the peace of the parties to the conflict to negotiate.

Finland is a women’s rights pioneer

It is often said that Finland was the first country in the world to grant women full political rights. That was in 1906. However, decades of work for equality preceded women’s suffrage and political participation. As early as the 1850s, women activists were speaking out for girls’ education.

In many countries around the world, women continue to struggle for political participation as well as for everyday rights such as the right to own land or inherit from their relatives. In Finland, women and men were granted equal inheritance rights in 1878. The first Finnish co-educational school brought boys and girls together in 1886. In 1870, Marie Tschetschulin became the first Finnish and Scandinavian woman to enrol as a matriculate. Until 1888, however, women were still required to obtain a separate permit to sit the matriculation examination. It was not until 1901 that women were granted the right to study at university.

As the 19th century Kuopio woman lawyer and writer Minna Canth said, “The question of women is not only a woman question, but a question of humanity.” It is easy to agree. Gender equality is first and foremost about human rights, and human rights belong to everyone.

Sources:
Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Finland – This is Finland
Government of Finland official website

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Illustration: Julia Tavast

10+1 things about the future of food production 

10+1 things about the future of food production

Some of us have enough food to waste, others have hardly any; and many do have food, but it isn’t sufficiently nutritious. We made a list of 10+1 things that affect the future of our food production. 

1. There is plenty of food – in theory. 

There is both hunger and overabundance in the world. Currently, the food that is produced globally would be enough for everyone, if only it were evenly distributed. Although there are immense differences between regions when it comes to resources for food production, in the grand scheme of things the problem lies not in insufficient food production but our dysfunctional and unfair food system. 

2. Climate change forces us to rethink food production. 

Climate change has led to extended droughts, longer and more intense storms, and other types of extreme weather, all of which affect farming and crops. Hence, both emission reduction and climate change adaptation are imperative. The food system in itself is a significant source of emissions, so we need to think carefully about the ways in which we can cut emissions in farming and logistics as well as food waste. 

3. Conflicts lead to empty farms and plates. 

The war in Ukraine has proven how many developing countries are dependent on the affordable grain produced in Ukraine and Russia. However, conflicts disrupt food production, deliveries and sales all over the world. When violence forces people to flee their homes, they often leave behind their farms and their means of livelihood. Climate change reduces resources, which will cause further conflicts in the future.

4. Unbalanced production is a threat to biodiversity. 

Approximately two thirds of the world’s farmland are used to cultivate only nine plant species, although there are thousands of options to choose from. Intensive production depletes the soil and increases the risk of plant diseases and pests. A much better way is to vary between different strains and follow the principles of agroecology and sustainable development in food production. 

5. Rising proces and inflation hit the middle classes. 

The price of food and inflation have risen so high that, together with energy price rises, even the middle classes end up counting coins. The situation is a downright disaster for the poor, who were already living from hand to mouth. However, food corporations and their owners are getting richer. Some think that the situation should be changed through political means, for example by taxing extreme wealth and the immense profits of corporations; but this isn’t as straightforward as it might sound, as many food giants are multinational. 

6. Food is supposed to nourish. 

A key issue in the future of food production and the functionality of the food system is nutritional content: food must be healthy and nourishing. It makes zero sense to produce immense amounts of food items that are by no measure the best when it comes to nutrition. At the moment, unhealthy food is often cheaper than healthy alternatives. A better diet would not only make us healthier but it would also help reduce emissions. 

7. Towards a plant-based diet? 

Particularly in the industrialised world, people consume far too much meat and other animal products. Transitioning to a plant-based diet would help solve health problems, reduce emissions, and diversify the use of soil. However, vegetarian food might not be a suitable option in all situations. For nomads, for example, animal products might be the only source of protein. 

8. We must end food waste. 

According to the UN, almost half of fruit and vegetables produced globally end up in waste, as does approximately a third of all food. The amount of food waste and refuse equals hundreds of billions of euros every year. Although we’ll never do away with all food waste entirely, even small acts can help reduce it significantly from its current levels. 

9. Support your local. 

The Covid-19 pandemic and the war in Ukraine have shown the dangers of being overly dependent on global value chains. Diverse and smaller-scale food production could improve food security for local populations, bring about opportunities to safeguard biodiversity, as well as offer local communities ways to make a living. 

10. Innovations and technologies exist already. 

To respond to the challenges in food production we don’t need disruptive technologies or entirely new methods, as a wide range of practical measures is already at our disposal. Instead of future technologies, we can look at the past and learn from the ways previous generations used in cultivating land. An agroecological approach helps improve the resilience of communities and supports local farmers. 

+1: FCA Supporst livelihoods with cash allowances. 

In many places there is food available, but the prices have risen beyond what the poorest can afford. Finn Church Aid helps those struggling with food security by, for example, offering cash allowances that families can use to purchase food. FCA also supports education and independent livelihoods with entrepreneurship training. 


Interviewees and sources: human advocacy advisor Merja Färm at Finn Church Aid, research manager and senior scientist Mila Sell at Natural Resources Institute Finland, FAO reports Thinking about the future of food safety and The State of the World’s Biodiversity for Food and Agriculture, Oxfam report Fixing Our Food: Debunking 10 myths about the global food system and what drives hunger, and Global Food Policy -reports by CGIAR. 


Text: Anne Salomäki 
Illustration: Carla Ladau

In Nepal’s Far West, pig and vegetable farming is the main source of livelihood for former bonded labourers

In Nepal’s Far West, pig and vegetable farming is the main source of livelihood for former bonded labourers

Former bonded labourers in Nepal’s Far Western Region earn a modest living by raising pigs and growing vegetables. FCA offers support to local people to help them earn a living, but in the most impoverished villages severe drought and all-engulfing fires make life extremely challenging.

IN A NORMAL summer, the Mohana River floods across the flat terrain all the way to the village of Bipatpur. Taking vegetables across the river to India would require a boat and a skipper.

In Nepal’s Far West, the annual monsoon season usually starts in early June, but this year the rains were weeks late. For local women, crossing the border from Nepal to India seems fairly easy; all they have to do is lift up their saris, roll up their trouser legs and wade across the river. It has been scorching hot for nearly two weeks now, with temperature rising above 40 degrees.

The ground is parched, and plants and people are desperate for water. Some of the wells in the village have dried up and there is no point in looking for new ones because finding groundwater is too uncertain and the costs of digging too high.

This has been an exceptional year in more ways than one. This spring, following a disaster in April that destroyed the harvest and stores, the women of Bipatpur had nothing to sell to the Indian vegetable markets across the river.

Women walking in water in Nepal.

During a normal summer the water in the Mohana river is much higher by June. The women of Bipatpur village cross the river to sell their vegetables on the Indian side. Photo: Uma Bista

“Only people were saved”

Burning crop residue on the fields to release nutrients is an annual tradition in Bipatpur. This year, an unpredictable and exceptionally strong wind caused the fire to spread quickly and uncontrollably. Houses, food containers, and livestock shelters burned down one after another. The fire destroyed or damaged the homes of 71 families and killed domestic animals.

Villagers cleared away the charred tree trunks, but the sad and disheartened feelings remain.

“Only people were saved,” the women say.

The fire also engulfed a large chunk of the village cooperative’s savings, which were kept in a box. Belmati Devi Chaudhary, 42, looks at the charred remains of her house.

“Everything is gone. All we have is emergency aid.”

A man and an older woman walking in a village in Nepal.
Belmati Devi Chaudhary and her son Sanjay Chaudhary outside of their temporary house at Bipadpur in Kailari Rural Municipality-7, Kailali district. They lost all their pigs on fire in April. FCA Nepal provided support to the Chaudhary family to rebuild their house. Photo: Uma Bista

A sow the family had bought with financial support from Finn Church Aid died in the fire. Without a mother to care for them, five piglets died, too. This was a huge loss for the Chaudhary family.

The money Belmati Devi Chaudhary had earned from pig farming helped her to pay for her children’s schooling. Standing next to his mother, the family’s eldest son Sanjay Chaudhary, 23, looks helpless.

“I may have to go to Kathmandu to find work. It’s difficult to get a paid job here,” he says.

For many years, scores of young Nepalese men have left for the capital city or for India in search of odd jobs, but Belmati doesn’t want her son to follow in their footsteps.

Like many others in Bipatpur and in the surrounding Kailali District, the Chaudhary family are former bonded labourers. Although Nepal’s 200-year-old Haliya and Kamayia bonded labour systems were abolished in the early 2000s, many former bonded labourers and their descendants are still very vulnerable.

People are standing behind a collapsed house.

Houses, food containers, and livestock shelters burned down one after another in April in the village of Bipatpur, Far West region of Nepal. The fire destroyed or damaged the homes of 71 families and killed domestic animals. Photo: Uma Bista

Sustainable livelihood with pig farming

Jumani Chaudhary, 50, is one of 29 women in a group supported by FCA. These women run a pig farm in the municipality of Gauriganga. They have learned how to make porridge for pigs from corn and wheat milling byproducts.

“By feeding pigs porridge, we save on feeding costs, and the pigs are healthier and grow faster,” Jumani Chaudhary says.

The women plan to start selling their pig feed to other pig farmers. To safeguard feed production, they would like to set up their own mill.

An older woman is petting her two pigs in Nepal.

Gaumati Sunuwar, 56, has received support from FCA on pig farming in Amargadhi, Dadeldhura district. Photo: Uma Bista

In a pig pen, three different-coloured pigs oink and jostle for food. Sows are less than a year old when they produce their first litter. Typically they can produce two litters a year, around ten piglets each time. With the right care and nutrition, pigs grow quickly.

“A full-grown boar is worth up to 30,000 rupees,” says Bishni Chaudhary, 43.

A Nepalese woman is standing in a room holding her young child in her arms.
Sheela Chaudhary, 22, with her son Ronim Chaudhary at Gauriganga, Kailali district 2. FCA Nepal provides nutrition packages to Sheela’s son. Photo: Uma Bista

Sanu Chaudhary, 27, who lives next door and is also a member of the women’s group, says she recently sold seven pigs for 50,000 rupees. Converted to euros, the sums seem somewhat modest: a thousand rupees equals roughly seven euros. But in the Far Western Region of Nepal, this money goes a long way. You can buy a school uniform for your child, meals for the entire school year, a water bottle and school supplies.

“Pig farming is easier and requires less work than buffalo farming. Buffaloes only produce milk part of the year, when they nurse their calves,” Jumani Chaudhary explains.

When buffaloes don’t produce milk, they produce nothing, but cost ten times the price of a pig.

“Before, we had to beg for food”

The road further west to the Dadeldhura district twists and turns along the lush green hills. Compared to the flat terrains of Kailali, Dadeldhura is topographically much more uneven. The winding road barely fits our car, giving the scenic drive an extra twist. Finally, we arrive in the village of Ganyapdhura.

We can see hints of green on the terraced farms even though the rains are late. The Dalit community living here grows cauliflower, potatoes and zucchini. Growing vegetables is more than a livelihood; it has given the community a sense of value.

“Before, we had to beg for food, but now we grow vegetables for sale,” says Gita Devi Sarki, 38.

In 2019, Finn Church Aid helped the community further improve its farming efficiency by supporting the Sarki family and 24 other local farmers in the introduction of tunnel farming. The plastic cover of the tunnel protects the vegetables from the elements and retains moisture. The community also received a walk-behind tractor, which makes plowing much easier. Gita Devi Sarki is the only woman who knows how to operate the machine – and even she needs her husband’s help to start it.

A woman is holding a hand tracktor. A man is walking next to the woman.

Gita Devi Sarki plows a field using a hand tractor to plant vegetables at Kholibasti, Ganyapdhura Rural municipality in Dadeldhura. The couple is now working together and hoping to expand their vegetable farming with the support they receive from FCA. Photo: Uma Bista

“Before, our farm was just big enough to produce corn and wheat for our own family. Now we can save 410 rupees each month by selling some of the vegetables we grow,” she says.

Most importantly, having a more secure livelihood meant that Gita’s husband Padam Bahadur Sarki, 42, was able to return home from India, where he worked for twenty years. The couple have been together for 22 years and have four children. Almost all this time, Gita Devi Sarki was in charge of the family’s day-to-day life, alone.

“I returned to Nepal due to the COVID-19 lockdowns,” he says.

“It’s a good thing you came back,” Gita Devi Sarki says, with a grin.

“Yeah, it’s been OK,” her husband replies, causing the group of women sitting around him to burst into laughter.

Having her husband back has reduced Gita Devi Sarki’s workload in the farms. The family plans to expand their business to raising goats and small-scale fish farming in a small pond in the valley.

A family is sitting on the porch of their home. A cow is peeking from one of the doorways.

Bahadur Damai, 52, (centre) with his family at Ganyapdhura Rural Municipality in Dadeldhura district received support from FCA for chicken farming. In the spring of 2022, Bahadur Damai was elected as a ward member in the local government. Photo: Uma Bista

From bonded labourer to a member of a local government

A pretty little house has a downstairs door open, and a wide-eyed cow peeks through the door. Bahadur Damai, 52, beckons to visitors to join him in the shade under a canopy. Back in the early 2000s, before the abolition of the Haliya system, he was a bonded labourer, mending other people’s clothing. Today, he smiles happily as he talks to us about his chickens and a small tailor’s shop he has opened in a nearby village centre.

Money has given his family a more stable livelihood, allowing him to buy things like a television. He has also been able to pay for the weddings of his two adult daughters, something that clearly makes him very proud.

One of his greatest achievements, however, was being elected a member of the local government in May.

A man is kneeling down inside a chicken pen.
Bahadur Damai, 52, used to make an inadequate living by sewing people’s clothes. Now he has a steady income raising chickens on his own farm in Ganyapdhura in Dadeldhura district. Photo: Uma Bista

“It’s all thanks to FCA that I am where I am now. I received support for vegetable and chicken farming, and I’ve been able to build relationships that won me votes in the election.”
He pauses mid-sentence when a gust of wind tries to rip off the chicken coop’s corrugated iron roof. Bahadur Damai gestures at his son, telling him to put big stones on the roof to keep it in place.

“A new chicken coop would be nice,” he says. Suddenly he becomes serious.

“You know, my wife and I only have one significant difference: she has aged faster.”

The look on his face says this is not a joke.

“Women age faster here because their lives are so much harder that men’s. It is a local tradition that women eat after everyone else, whatever is left. Pregnancies, childbirths, hard physical labour…As an elected member of the local government, I intend to raise awareness of the problems women have in our communities, such as the disproportionate burden of domestic work and domestic violence,” Bahadur Damai says.

But that’s not the only thing he wants to draw attention to. In this district, former bonded labourers are still not eligible for the Nepali government rehabilitation programme, which promises them land ownership, education for children, and employment opportunities for young people.

Charred trees on a dry field.

Charred trees are a reminder of the fire that brought the small village of Bipatpur to its knees in April. Photo: Uma Bista

Bank accounts secure the future

In Bipatpur, the village women have gathered together under a canopy. In fact, this used to be a house, one of the women points out. The charred roof beams have been removed and replaced with new ones. At noon, the sun is beating down, and the temperature in the shade is approaching forty degrees. It turns out that the name of the village, Bipatpur, means disaster in the local language. This village has certainly had its fair share of disasters, from floods to fires.

Women sit on the ground.
People from Bipatpur gathered to receive cash support from FCA Nepal in order to rebuild houses which were destroyed by the fire in April at Kailari Rural Municipality. The village was also provided support during the Covid-19 pandemic. Photo: Uma Bista

But perhaps today things will take a turn for the better. Representatives of the local government and the bank will be visiting the village. With support from FCA, every family that lost their house in the spring fire will receive a humanitarian cash transfer. For those whose homes were damaged to some degree, 13,500 rupees, or about 106 euros, will be offered for reconstruction, and those who suffered the greatest losses will receive 34,500 rupees, or 270 euros. Pregnant women, nursing mothers, families and the elderly will receive an additional 500 rupees.

For the first time, cash transfers will be paid to women’s own bank accounts. This ensures that their money is safe, and that even if another disaster strikes the village, not all of their possessions will be gone.


Text: Elisa Rimaila
Photos: Uma Bista
Translation: Leni Vapaavuori


Finn Church Aid has had a country office in Nepal since 2013. Our work focuses on providing income opportunities for former bonded labourers, on ensuring the realisation of their rights, and on improving women’s livelihoods. After the earthquake in 2015, we built safe school facilities for 44,000 children, trained teachers and supported mental recovery. In 2021, we took action to alleviate the food insecurity affecting nearly 18,000 people as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

A baby is sleeping on the ground in Nepal. Women sit around the baby.

Elisha Chaudhary sleeps while her mother Sajita Chaudhary is attending a meeting at Bipatpur. Photo: Uma Bista

Finn Church Aid opens Kyiv office, focusing on restarting education for children in northern Ukraine

Finn Church Aid opens Kyiv office, focusing on restarting education for children in northern Ukraine

Schools have suffered enormous damage in the ongoing war in Ukraine. Finn Church Aid wants to be among the first organisations to support the return of children to school.

FINN CHURCH AID is entering the next phase of its emergency assistance programme in Ukraine; this includes support for the education sector that has suffered from the war. Work will begin in the city of Chernihiv in northern Ukraine, approximately 150 kilometres northeast of Kyiv. To make this possible, Finn Church Aid is opening an office in the Ukrainian capital.

Jouni Hemberg, Executive Director of Finn Church Aid, was recently on a field visit to Ukraine. He emphasises that Finn Church Aid wants to support the return of Ukrainian children to school.

“The summer holidays are coming soon; the schools have to be repaired now so that children returning to their home districts can get back to their lessons in the autumn,” he explains. “There are currently few education sector players north of Kyiv, so that’s why we’re heading there with our work.”

Russian troops withdrew from the Kyiv area in March/April. After battles, bombings and occupation, the schools in this area are in poor condition. There are unexploded munitions and mines in the area.

“Finn Church Aid’s team visited the area and assessed the condition of the schools there after the occupation and how they are damaged,” Hemberg continues. “Most of the schools have suffered somehow, and most of the ones that are still standing have been vandalised in many ways; even doors and windows have been stolen.”

Schools are important to children living amid war

The bombings have destroyed and damaged schools all over Ukraine. The Chernihiv area has seen missile strikes as recently as May.

“We believe that targeting schools with hostilities is inhumane and prohibited outright by humanitarian law,” says Hemberg emphatically. “Attacking schools means that the rules of war have not been followed, and it is also clear that such acts have a negative impact on the civilian population and the prospects of children and youth.”

Education in humanitarian crises is a central expertise of Finn Church Aid. The organisation leads education work in eleven countries on three continents.

Education in emergencies can be viewed as a life-saving activity. Schools bring routines and a sense of normality to the daily lives of children living amid war or as refugees. Schools can also disseminate vital information, for example, about unexploded mines and munitions; in Ukraine there are large numbers of these, due to the current and past conflicts.

Psychosocial support is also an important part of educational work in the midst of a humanitarian crisis. Finn Church Aid has long experience in this area in all of its programme countries, such as providing essential training to teachers on psychosocial support. Ukraine has many children who will need multi-layered support due to the long-term psychological effects of war, and this will form a key part of Finn Church Aid’s work in the region.

Finn Church Aid continues relief distributions in Ukraine

In addition to working in support of the education sector, Finn Church Aid will continue to provide internally displaced people with emergency aid, together with Hungarian Interchurch Aid, its local partner organisation.

Part of this work has involved the delivery of 662,000 kilograms of aid including food and drink, nappies and other hygiene products. Furthermore, refugee shelters opened in places like schools, nurseries and church premises have been supported with washing machines and kitchen refrigeration appliances.

The relief work began in March on the Hungarian-Ukrainian border and in Lviv. Just recently, aid lorries belonging to Finn Church Aid and Hungarian Interchurch Aid have reached areas in eastern Ukraine as well.

For more information:

Executive Director, Mr. Jouni Hemberg, jouni.hemberg[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, +358 50 325 9579
Communications Manager, Mr. Erik Nyström, erik.nystrom[a]kirkonulkomaanapu.fi, +358 5038 07250,

Photo: A wrecked school pictured in the city of Chernihiv in March. Lehtikuva / AFP

Gender-based violence matters to everyone

Gender-based violence matters to everyone

Types and causes of gender-based violence are sometimes difficult to identify. Sexual violence is only one form of gender-based violence.

ONE IN THREE women in the world has experienced some form of violence simply because she is a woman. Violence can include anything from violation of physical integrity, beatings and hair tearing to sexual assault or psychological acts of violence. Girls who cannot go to school because of their gender are also victims of gender-based violence.

With the internet, and especially with the smartphones everyone now carries around, harassment, psychological violence and the threat of physical violence are present everywhere, including at home. Then again, home has never been a safe place for girls and women. Not even in Finland, where one in three women has experienced intimate partner violence.

There are so many forms of gender-based violence that it may be difficult to define it as a particular type of activity. Violence can be expressed through a clear act, such as genital mutilation, beating or rape. But sometimes violence is more difficult to define and finding words for it may not be easy. This is often the case with coercion associated with intimate partner violence or with financial control exerted by a spouse.

How do we know it’s gender-based violence?

What is gender-based violence? One of the definitions is that the violence committed differs in form, prevalence or consequences by gender. Experiences of violence usually differ between the genders, especially in terms of the setting and the perpetrator.

Men are more commonly than women subjected to violence in public places, while women experience violence at home and in the workplace. A minority of victims of intimate partner violence are men. Girls and women also experience sexual violence and harassment more often than men.

Most typically, the perpetrator is a man, and most of the victims are women. This is nearly always the case. However, statistics show that gender-based violence not only affects women, but also those who belong to sexual minorities. In fact, as gender-based violence is deeply rooted in gender inequality, it is one of the most common human rights violations committed anywhere in the world.

What does Finn Church Aid do to prevent violence against women?

Finn Church Aid works to ensure that every person can lead a dignified life. We support the most vulnerable people. Our actions are guided by equality, non-discrimination and accountability, and we work to ensure that right to education, peace and livelihood is realised for all people.

While we are not specifically focused on protecting the rights of girls and women or combatting gender-based violence, realising equality and human rights and addressing the vulnerabilities of genders and minorities are closely related to our work. We are committed to the UN Sustainable Development Goal 5, which obliges us to address equality issues in our work and strengthen the rights and opportunities of women and girls.

In practice, we work to improve the educational opportunities, livelihoods, entrepreneurship and political participation of girls and women. We are committed to the identification and prevention of sexual and gender-based violence, child marriage and unequal balance of power between genders.

Our efforts to advance the education and livelihoods of girls and women also strengthen their position in their own communities. When women gain an education, find an occupation and become decision-makers, it is easier for them to have influence over their own lives. This, in turn, reduces discrimination and increases human dignity in those communities where girls and women have traditionally been in a weaker position.

Unfortunately, such changes in society’s balance of power also raise objections, which may turn into violence against women and girls. Crises, conflicts and natural disasters also pose a risk to the positive development of equality and can increase the threat of violence. For these reasons, we must pay special attention to the safety of women when delivering humanitarian assistance.

Covid-19 has increased the threat of violence

The prolonged pandemic has had a negative impact on the safety of girls and women. In Nepal, an increase in the number of child marriages and violence against girls and women has been observed.

Already in the first year of the pandemic, Unesco, the UN Educational, Scientific and Cultural Organisation, expressed concern that up to 11 million girls may not return to their studies when schools reopen, particularly in the African countries. The pandemic has also increased the occurrence of domestic violence, the use of child labour and the risk of sexual violence.

In its development cooperation, Finn Church Aid seeks to improve the security and equality of girls and women, for example by educating teachers, supporting the voice of women in peacebuilding and political decision-making and promoting the education of refugee women.

How can we combat gender-based violence?

The aim of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action is to advance the equal realisation of human rights for women. The 1979 UN Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women has been signed by 187 states.

The Convention contains provisions on aspects such as citizenship, education, participation in working life, healthcare and women’s economic rights. Their realisation is monitored by the Committee on the Elimination of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW), which can also make general recommendations. Of these, Recommendation No 19, adopted in 2002 and updated in 2017 by Recommendation No 35, for the first time included measures to eliminate violence against women.

In Europe, one of the most significant attempts to end gender-based violence is the 2011 Istanbul Convention, which entered into force in Finland in August 2015. The aim of the convention is to prevent and eliminate violence against women, protect victims of violence and hold perpetrators of violence accountable for their actions.

However, international conventions alone will not eliminate sexual, and gender-based violence. Creating safer communities requires action that cannot be left to decision-makers and states.
The key is to identify gender-based violence, listen to victims and recognise their experiences, and increase the provision of information for all parties involved. Gender-based violence is everyone’s concern.

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Illustration: Carla Ladau
Translation: Päivi Creber

Why is the world unfair to women? Ten reasons and one response

1. INVISIBLE WORK. All women work but do not necessarily earn a salary. Traditionally, only productive work is categorised as a job and all other work, such as that in households or outside the formal economy, remains invisible and therefore unpaid. Women are doing 75 per cent of all unpaid work worldwide and do it for three to six hours per day. Much of the invisible work is within homes, taking care of children, the sick and the elderly.


2. EDUCATION.
More than 130 million girls aged 6–17 do not go to school. A girls’ education can also be disrupted if her family needs her to support their daily life through household work or paid jobs. Menstruation or marriage can also put an end to a girls’ education.


3. MENSTRUATION
leads to discrimination. In Nepal, for instance, families and the community restrict women’s movement and participation in activities during menstruation. In Myanmar’s Rohingya communities, women are traditionally not allowed to interact with other boys and men than their own family’s after they started menstruating. Many girls face the risk of early marriage after they have had their first period.


4. PERIOD POVERTY.
The lack of sanitary pads causes multiple challenges. For instance, in refugee settlements, quality pads are hardly available or sold at a very high price. If the sanitary pads do not exist or cannot be changed safely in school, girls might be forced to stay home during their periods. Repeated absence from school might cause girls to drop out.


5. LAVATORIES
are part of everyone’s daily life, but many women have to search for a safe lavatory every day. According to the UN, every third of the world’s women cannot access a safe bathroom facility where they can also wash during menstruation. Women need a door that can be locked not only because of privacy and dignity but because bathroom facilities put women at risk for abuse and sexual violence.


6. EMPLOYMENT.
Traditional roles and models weaken the position of women in the job market. Their invisible work as caretakers of families creates further challenges for the women to find time for paid work. Research shows that public support for daycare services increases the number of women doing paid work. A woman with a job and salary has a better chance of impacting her own life and the surrounding society.


7. VIOLENCE AGAINST WOMEN
is a severe violation of human rights and a far too common practice. Women are not safe even in their own homes – every third of the world’s women report having experienced violence in a close relationship. An estimated 38 per cent of all murdered women were killed by their spouses.


8. DISASTERS
worsen the situation of those in the most fragile positions even further – conflict and war increase domestic and gender-based violence. Violence against women has reportedly soared in several countries during the lockdowns caused by the coronavirus, including the countries where Finn Church Aid operates. Due to Covid-19 restrictions and the pandemic’s burden on healthcare, women are struggling to access services related to sexuality and reproduction, and this might result in a rise in, for instance, unwanted pregnancies.


9. INEQUALITY IN POWER STRUCTURES.
Men form a majority in decision-making positions worldwide. Research shows that women are more likely to consider women-related issues, family politics, education and care services when they are in a leadership position. Thus, leaving women outside decision-making significantly affects these areas of life. The influence of women is also undermined by them not being part of the informal, male-dominated networks that might have an unexpected impact on society.


10. ADDITIONAL DISADVANTAGES.
While women per se are in an unfavourable position, the women with additional disadvantages caused by disabilities, age, poverty or sexual orientation face even greater challenges. In emergencies, such as natural disasters and conflicts, women with disabilities are particularly vulnerable to discrimination and violence and struggle to access support. Elderly and poor women and those with disabilities are dependent on the support of others, which makes them vulnerable to abuse.


+1 FINN CHURCH AID (FCA)
includes and promotes gender equality in all its operations. FCA and the Women’s Bank work for women’s rights by supporting women’s education and livelihoods in fragile countries. Livelihood activities offer training in entrepreneurship, marketing and managing finances. Creating cooperatives and savings groups are central to the projects, and the cooperatives support their members’ business activities.

The livelihood projects also strengthen women’s rights in other ways. Participating in cooperatives and their management builds confidence and experience that support women in becoming involved in broader decision-making structures. The cooperatives also offer interventions and solutions to issues, such as domestic violence and other forms of gender-based violence.

The education of girls is one of the most efficient ways of securing sustainable development. Educated women are more likely to send their children to school, and education is the key to sustaining oneself and live an independent life.


Sources:
Caroline Criado Perez (2019): Invisible Women, World Health Organisation, Plan International


Text: Noora Pohjanheimo
Illustration: Carla Ladau

Periods interfere with the education of far too many girls

Millions of girls and women living in refugee camps urgently need feminine hygiene products. They also desperately hope for access to clean water, soap and functioning door locks.

At present, roughly 30 million girls and women around the world are living as refugees, and many of them face the same question every month: how will I cope with my period this time?

Taking care of menstrual hygiene in a refugee camp setting is not easy. No proper sanitary pads are available. Or if there are, they are far too expensive to buy, at least in sufficient amounts.

The girls and women living in refugee camps in different parts of the world also have to fear for their safety. Privacy is another real problem in settings where women have to use communal toilets that are rarely even equipped with locks.

Feminine hygiene is difficult to maintain when there is no clean water for washing up. The cultural stigmatization of women as impure during menstruation also makes girls and women feel ashamed of their bodies. At worst, women and girls have to isolate themselves from their community or even their own family during their periods.

Girls attending Yoyo primary school going to classes at Bidibidi refugee settlement.

Girls attending Yoyo primary school going to classes at Bidibidi refugee settlement.

Youth learn about menstruation in school

”Not having sanitary pads, for example, has a direct impact on girls’ education,” says Project Manager Lilian Musoki from Uganda.

Musoki was involved in organising the distribution of hygiene kits in Bidibidi refugee settlement. Bidibidi has a population of 270,000 people and is one of the world’s largest refugee settlements. A city unto itself, its inhabitants have mainly fled the civil war in Uganda’s northern neighbour South Sudan.

Although menstruation and access to education may seem to have little connection, according to Musoki, they go hand in hand.

“Girls stay out of school every time they have their period. Without proper sanitary pads and school facilities for taking care of their menstrual hygiene in private, girls cannot make the most of their education.”

The problem is that their absence from school cause girls to fall behind in their studies, making it difficult for them to complete their education.

In Bidibidi refugee settlement, proper sanitary towels are hard to come by or they are too expensive for the women and girls living as refugees. That’s why women and girls often make do with whatever is on hand. In practice, it means that they resort to making pads themselves, for example, from pieces of fabric cut from old cloths.

These makeshift pads sometimes leak and lead to odours, causing embarrassment and shame for the girls. This is why the hygiene kits distributed by FCA also contain sanitary pads. A total of 19,850 girls in Bidibidi were able to obtain the FCA hygiene kit in 2019.

Distribution of hygiene kits in Bidibidi refugee settlement.

On Menstrual Hygiene Day last year, Finn Church Aid distributed 19 850 hygiene kits to girls in Bidibidi refugee settlement in Uganda.

According to Lilian Musoki, girls often lack menstrual knowledge.

“In our culture, talking openly about menstruation is off-limits, even between mothers and daughters. It is culturally unacceptable”, Musoki says.

Mothers also have their hands full with keeping up with housework and earning a livelihood. In FCA’s projects in refugee settlements, information has been shared, and schools also provide menstrual education.

In school, girls learn the facts about menstruation and how to maintain good hygiene. They can also turn to a designated female teacher if their period starts in the middle of the school day. Musoki says that they can ask the teacher for a sanitary pad so that they can continue with their school day.

Lilian Musoki

Lilian Musoki.

“When the girls get accurate information, the shame associated with menstruation and the changes in their own bodies disappears,” Musoki insists.

For environmental reasons, some of the sanitary pads FCA provides can be washed and reused. Soap bars for washing them are included in the hygiene kits distributed in refugee settlements. Hygiene kits also include panties.

According to Musoki, FCA is providing pads because other products, such as tampons and menstrual cups, would prove too costly for local people. A tampon pack worth three US dollars is a luxury no one can afford.

Safety equals a door with a lock

For menstrual hygiene, girls need to have their own toilets where they can change their sanitary pads in private, without any fear of harassment.

The safe spaces for women and girls have also been vital to girls and women living on the other side of the world in Cox’s Bazar, Bangladesh, in the world’s largest refugee camp. There, in partnership with DanChurchAid (DCA), FCA supports safe spaces for the Rohingya women and girls who have fled Myanmar to Bangladesh.

In the safe spaces, women and girls can use clean and safe toilets with hand-washing stations and soap. In addition, they get sanitary pads that enable them to participate in the literacy and numeracy lessons offered by FCA and DCA, also during their periods.

Why are the toilets in safe spaces so important? Kaji Shahin Akter who works as the Programme Manager for Gender-Based Violence in Cox’s Bazar, says that the taboos surrounding menstruation expose women to violence.

“Traditionally, Rohingya women have used rags cut from worn-out garments as their sanitary towels. Women need to wash these either early in the morning or late at night, been conditioned by the culture to regard menstruation and menstruating women as polluted,” she says.

Such notions compel women and girls to go to the camp’s water stations after dark, exposing them to sexual or other forms of violence. Even toilets designated for women can be dangerous when inadequately monitored.

Girls and women in safe spaces in Cox's Bazar Bangldesh.

In Cox’s Bazar Bangladesh, the world’s largest refugee settlement, Finn Church Aid and Dan Church Aid have built safe spaces for women and girls.

Cox’s Bazar Education Programme Manager Margaret Goll from DCA says that even the disposable sanitary pads are problematic. They add to the issue of waste in the massive refugee camp.

“There are many kinds of problems related to menstruation in Cox’s Bazar, actually every problem you can imagine,” Goll says.

Men also need menstrual information

Menstruation puts even further limits to girls’ lives, as many Rohingya girls stop attending school after they get their first period, on average at the age of 14.

“In Rohingya culture, when a girl starts menstruating, she can only spend time with the men and boys of her own family. Many girls are also married off when they start menstruating,” says Goll.

In Cox’s Bazar refugee camp, women and girls have their own safe spaces where they are able to study and get information on menstrual health and hygiene as well as other important issues in their own lives.

Rohingyas believe that a girl or a woman is impure during menstruation and can therefore not participate in normal life. According to Margaret Goll and Kaji Shahin Akter, these attitudes are also addressed. Getting the community’s men involved in the conversations is essential.

”We have provided boys and men not only with information on menstruation but also on positive body image and positive fatherhood. In the beginning, this was difficult, and the men and boys were reluctant to join in because all of us working for the project are women,” says Kaji Shahin Akter.

Eventually, progress was made when religious leaders, such as imams, started taking part in the project.

One way to make menstruation more visible has been the annual World Menstruation Hygiene Day on 28 May.

“It has been a big event in Cox’s Bazar in previous years. This year, however, we may have to limit public gatherings,” says Goll.

Text: Elisa Rimaila
Translation: Ulla Kärki