In the midst of a prolonged Israeli offensive in Gaza, Palestinian women are facing not only the trauma of war but also an often-overlooked aspect of their plight – menstrual health. Forced into desperate, unsanitary circumstances and grappling with limited access to essential menstrual hygiene products, many women in Gaza are resorting to drastic measures.
Desperate Measures Amidst the Israeli Offensive
The ongoing Israeli offensive in Gaza has left countless families displaced, living in overcrowded and unhygienic conditions. As a result, the already challenging situation for women has become dire. Access to basic necessities, such as clean water and menstrual hygiene products, including sanitary napkins and tampons, has become scarce, if not impossible.
Faced with these grim circumstances, women are increasingly turning to norethisterone tablets, typically prescribed for conditions like severe menstrual bleeding, endometriosis, and painful periods. These tablets work by raising progesterone hormone levels to prevent the shedding of the uterine lining, effectively delaying menstruation.
Dilemma of Menstrual Health Challenges
While these period delaying pills offer temporary relief from the discomfort and pain of menstruation, they come with potential side effects, including irregular vaginal bleeding, nausea, changes to the menstrual cycle, dizziness, and mood swings. Dr. Walid Abu Hatab, an obstetrics and gynecology medical consultant in Gaza, highlights that these side effects can be concerning, but some women, like Salma Khaled, feel they have no choice but to take the risk due to the relentless Israeli bombardment and blockade.
Living in Fear and Discomfort
Salma Khaled’s story reflects the harrowing experiences of many women in Gaza. She was forced to flee her home and find refuge in overcrowded conditions with limited access to sanitary products. Sharing a house with numerous relatives during a water shortage makes maintaining basic hygiene a luxury, if not an impossibility. The scarcity of sanitary pads adds to their struggles, forcing women like Salma to seek alternatives.
The overall situation is exacerbated by the blockade imposed by Israel, limiting the availability of essential goods, including medical supplies. Pharmacies and stores are grappling with dwindling stock, unable to replenish due to the destruction of main roads and logistical challenges. This situation has led women to explore less conventional solutions like period-delaying tablets, which are comparatively more available in some pharmacies.
Psychological and Physical Toll of Conflict
Psychologist and social worker Nevin Adnan in Gaza City emphasizes that the stress of displacement and conflict can exacerbate the physical and psychological symptoms that women typically experience during their menstrual cycles. These symptoms can include mood swings, abdominal and back pain, constipation, and bloating. In such stressful times, these symptoms can intensify, causing insomnia, nervousness, and extreme tension.
Shift Towards Menstrual Health Alternatives
In these extraordinary circumstances, more women are turning to period-delaying pills to avoid the additional embarrassment and shame caused by the lack of hygiene, privacy, and available health products. However, Nevin Adnan emphasizes the importance of consulting a doctor, even during times of crisis, to understand the potential effects of these pills on a woman’s physical health, as they can disrupt natural hormonal changes, affect the timing and flow of menstruation, and have other impacts.
Impact on Young Girls
The dire conditions have a significant impact on young girls as well. Samira al-Saadi, a displaced mother, worries about her 15-year-old daughter who recently started menstruating. Her daughter is overwhelmed not only by the challenges of managing her period but also by the lack of privacy and sanitary products in their shelter. Many mothers like Samira are concerned about the potential health effects of period-delaying pills for their children.
The Israeli offensive in Gaza has created a multifaceted crisis for Palestinian women, compelling them to find unconventional solutions to manage their menstrual health. While period-delaying pills offer temporary relief, they come with their own set of challenges. The broader implications of this crisis on women’s physical and mental well-being are a stark reminder of the human toll of conflict. In a region already grappling with the devastating effects of war, the struggle for basic dignity and hygiene continues to be a silent battle fought by Palestinian women every day.