After the earthquakes in Nepal in April and May 2015, many affected people had to move to tents. JSI, through the Chlorhexidine Navi Care Program (CNCP), provided services in eight districts and became a member of the Post-Earthquake Reproductive Health sub-cluster. This sub-cluster was established to address RH issues faced by women after the disaster.
Here at the International Conference on Family Planning (ICFP), the Interagency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crisis (IAWG) has set up a large tent to highlight the issues faced by women in crisis.
In the tent, youth participating at the conference enact role plays of reproductive health issues women face in crisis situations. I had the chance to watch some of these role plays, and was immediately reminded of a group of adolescent girls I met in a community in Nepal shortly after the earthquake.
The girls refused to come out of the relief tent after their houses were damaged by the earthquake. They would not come out to speak with people, join community meetings, or help out after the quake as so many of their friends did. I noticed them sitting in the corner and asked why they weren’t coming out. Initially they were shy and reluctant to say anything, but after I chatted with them, they admitted they had their monthly period but had no pads or other supplies and could not go outside.
I felt so bad for them. I went to a small market and bought a supply of pads and panties so they could join their friends. After that, I raised funds to buy a large quantity of feminine products and began distributing them in all the communities I visited.
Of course, JSI’s work with supporting earthquake relief efforts went beyond the retrieval of pads. Our team helped package medicines and supplies, assisted with logistics management, and developed motivation kits for female community health volunteers (FCHV), who distributed our child survival supplies, in including chlorhexidine for the prevention of newborn sepsis, to women in their communities. All told, JSI and the FCHVs distributed more than 600,000 CHX tubes as a part of the RH kits to areas affected by the earthquake.
The tent here at ICFP highlights so many of the issues women face in crisis situations, from lack of family planning supplies to barriers to youth access of supplies, sexual violence, and many others. The simple, basic needs of young women were so apparent when I spoke with those girls in Nepal, and the tent here in the conference hall brought that home for me.
When a big crisis hits, most of the attention is placed on the huge issues: damaged houses, electricity, water, food, etc. However, amid the chaos, basic day-to-day issues faced by women do not go away. They confront safety issues, they need family planning, and they need menstruation supplies. Women’s social dignity is critical and should not become a last priority in a crisis. This needs to change and I am so glad that IAWG is highlighting these issues for people here at ICFP.
Interagency Working Group on Reproductive Health in Crisis (IAWG) is a coalition working to expand and strengthen access to quality sexual and reproductive health services for people affected by conflict and natural disaster. JSI has been a member since the group was founded in 1995 and JSI staff serve on the Steering Committee.