The buckets that bring dignity

31 July 2019

Topics: refugees

Women and girls in refugee camps often lack access to basic hygiene – including sanitary pads, clean underwear and decent washing facilities. In May, thousands of people across Australia chipped in to buy “Buckets of Dignity” for Rohingya women and girl, to help them maintain their dignity at a when many other things feel lost.

Ayesha, a Rohingya refugee from Myanmar, sits with her daughter in their tent in Jamtoli camp after receiving a dignity kit containing reusable sanitary cloths, underwear and soap. Richard Wainwright/Act for Peace

I want you to think, just for a moment, about periods.

And I’d like you to consider what it would be like to get your period, whilst living in a crowded refugee camp: sleeping in a tent, sharing a toilet with hundreds of people, and without any way to access sanitary pads.

This is the situation facing thousands of Rohingya women and girls who are living as refugees in Bangladesh.

When brutal violence erupted in Myanmar in August 2017, more than 745,000 Rohingya people were forced from their homes and across the border.

In an emergency situation like this, where resources are stretched to meet the sheer scale of the need, female hygiene is often overlooked. Women and girls lack access to even basic hygiene, such as sanitary pads.

Latrines (the green structures) dot the crowded hillsides of Jamtoli refugee camp. The sprawling camp, with makeshift bamboo and tarpaulin tents and shared latrines, offers little privacy and few facilities for women and girls during their period. Richard Wainwright/Act for Peace

Thankfully, with your help, our partner in Bangladesh are distributing dignity kits containing simple but essential items including underwear, reusable sanitary cloths and soap. The bucket acts as a basin, so women don’t have to use the shared washrooms and can clean their sanitary cloths, hygienically and in private.

Without these kits, women and girls face enormous challenges in managing their periods. Nur, a Rohingya refugee, told us: 

I and my daughter use the sanitary items. We need hygiene products every month. Without these kits, we use old clothes. We wash and use the same cloth over and over again.

 On May 28, International Menstrual Hygiene Day, we launched a 28 day campaign to provide ‘Buckets of Dignity’ to 3,000 Rohingya women and girls. Thousands of people chipped in all across the country and reached well over the target. 

The generosity of people all across Australia is helping to ensure that for women who’ve suffered unimaginable horrors and continue to face hardships, one of their most basic needs is met. Thank you.

What’s in a ‘Bucket of Dignity’?

While they contain many of the same simple items you or I might use every day, when you’re living in a refugee camp where resources are limited, each item is precious and has a special purpose.

  • Reusable sanitary cloths: reusable cloths make the most practical sense in a refugee camp that is home to more than 50,000 people. They are a cost-effective, sustainable alternative to pads and won’t clog the basic latrine systems or cause environmental issues.
  • Laundry soap: soap is essential for women to keep their sanitary cloths clean and hygienic. The red bucket acts as a sink, so women don’t have to use the shared facilities, and can wash their items in the privacy of their shelter.
  • A torch: with few lights in the camp, walking in the dark to reach the shared latrine can be dangerous. A torch helps to improve the safety and security of women on the way to the bathroom at night. 
  • Clothing: when fleeing war, families often leave with just the clothing on their back.  Having a change of culturally-appropriate clothing - including a dress, skirt, underwear and shawl, makes it easier for women and girls to move freely around the camp. 

Fatima, a young Rohingya refugee, stands outside her tent in Jamtoli camp. As well as Dignity Kits, your support is helping to provide urgent medical care, shelter and blankets to Rohingya families in Bangladesh whose lives have been turned upside down by violence.