With almost no access to menstrual pads, clean water and hygiene - people in Gaza can’t meet their simplest and basic needs. 

UN Women estimates 10 million disposable menstrual pads are needed each month to meet the need in Gaza - but “only a fraction” are making it across the border. 

There are reports of women and girls in Gaza using torn-up pieces of cloth, tissues, diapers and reusing pads to manage their period. 

The lack of hygiene and access to clean water means some are developing infections as a result. Some people are choosing to take medication to skip their periods, despite the negative side effects this can cause.

Woman holding up reusable period underwear. Photo: Supplied. 

Supplying 5000 people in Gaza with period underwear 

Reemi is a small New Zealand company with the sole mission to alleviate period poverty.

Reemi makes reusable period underwear and wash bags that have an internal scrubber and are designed to discreetly wash period products without touching them. The underwear can also be dried inside the bag. 

The company has been given a UK humanitarian grant to supply 5000 people in Gaza with period underwear in partnership with Oxfam Great Britain.


Reemi founder Emily Au-Young (second on the left) holding up a wash bag for period underwear in Bangladesh. Photo: Supplied. 

Re: News journalist Zoe Madden-Smith spoke to founder Emily Au-Young about Reemi’s mission and what she hopes this project will achieve.

Please note: The rest of this article uses the terms ‘women’ and ‘girls’ because the interviewees and research included specifically referred to women or girls. However we acknowledge that people who menstruate who do not identify with those terms may also relate to this issue. 

Tell me about Reemi, what kind of work do you do?

Reemi is a small Kiwi non-government organisation that started in 2018. It was initially set up to do research in the hopes we would come up with a concept for period poverty that is something people want, not just something people need. Because periods still have a lot of stigma, this is something we thought was really important.

We do a little bit of work in Aotearoa, but our main focus is helping people in the most complex circumstances in the world like Gaza.

Reemi founder Emily Au-Young says wash bags (pictured here in Bangladesh) are reducing period stigma. Photo: supplied. 

I’ve noticed a lot more discussion about ‘period poverty’ recently, but what does this actually mean?

Period poverty is not having access to adequate menstrual hygiene materials and education. 

So when we say lack of access, it doesn't necessarily just mean financial. One of the things we uncovered in our research was that men being shopkeepers was one of the biggest obstacles for women accessing period products. 

Throughout the process of managing your period there is stigma - from washing or drying products to purchasing or disposing of them, so we are trying to address all of those.

In 2018 when I first started talking about this issue and going to companies and funders, it was actually a really uncomfortable thing to do because most of the people you're talking to are men and have never heard of this issue. 

People in Gaza are getting infections due to a lack of access to menstrual pads, clean water and hygiene. Photo: Getty Images.

What stories of period poverty are you hearing about in Gaza?

It is very hard for us to get data there but we do know women and girls are having to reuse pads or cloths. These products are leading to irritations because there is a lack of clean water and the soap they are using to wash them is not washed out completely.

There's no capacity for testing like we would have in the West to understand what those irritations are. All we have is reported symptoms like itching and burning, which could be bacterial vaginosis, a yeast infection or another type of infection.

We also know hormones and stress play different roles on people's bodies and there are some reports of people having severe bleeding due to stress or periods being more frequent like twice a month.

How does this make you feel to hear this?

It's heartbreaking and it's extremely humbling, to be honest. We've had one phone call with the team in Gaza, and that's probably all that we'll get to have on the ground because there are strict protocols around when and how you can communicate.

It's a real privilege to be able to do anything in this situation. I think that's my overwhelming feeling, that we're able to offer some dignity to someone there.

Three young women looking at period underwear during a Reemi education session. Photo: Supplied. Location: Bangladesh.

What do you think is the best way to eliminate period poverty?

I think ultimately it's designing products that women love. I think that's what we've seen recently with a resurgence of all these new period products in Western societies that have helped break the stigma. 

And we’ve also seen this in our work in Bangladesh. We did a small randomised controlled trial with 450 women in a factory made up of 6000 women. The trade union loved the products so much that they petitioned the management to have the factory fund it for all 6000 women. 

That was awesome because we didn’t push for that, that came internally from the women who said the product broke down stigma. It is discrete, lasts a long time and you don't have to spend money every month on it. And that's a huge thing for people in poverty or on the edge of poverty. 

What else have you learnt from your research?

We do a lot of data collection before and after our research. 

We found before, some women may not have talked to their daughters about periods. But because they are excited about a product that works for them they are sharing it with their neighbours, with their daughters and with their coworkers.

And I think that's a really positive thing, we're designing things based on what people want rather than just meeting a need. 

You say dignity is at the heart of what Reemi does, how do period products give people dignity?

We work with a community in Vanuatu with people who have disabilities and found some of the girls struggled with the clasp on reusable pads. But period underwear are easier to use on their own.

It's a cliché to use the word empowerment, but it genuinely is. 

If you can manage your period as a 14-year-old girl in remote Vanuatu and you don't need a caregiver to clip it on to you, that's very empowering and gives you dignity.

In places like Gaza where there are a million women and girls displaced right now. And when you're facing severe shortages and you've got one toilet between 486 people. I think dignity is a really important thing to offer people. It’s a glimpse of hope in this really dire situation.

What stage is the project at right now?

It’s in production right now. It’s about 20,000 pairs of underwear so it takes time. We are aiming for distribution at the end of May or early June but because the situation is rapidly evolving, the exact timing will be firmed up much closer to the time.

What do you hope the impact will be?

Currently, the grant will help us supply reusable period underwear to 5000 women and girls in Gaza. But we are raising money to reach a further 5000 women and children. So if you do have $33 to spare, that will provide four pairs of period underwear which is quite a significant gift to someone in Gaza right now.

People in Aotearoa feel tired from the cost of living. We feel tired from all the bad things that are happening right now. And yet, we're not the ones that are exhausted. And we have a space here to offer manaakitanga to those who are.

Although it may be a humble and small offering of manaakitanga, it is something to give people and hopefully reduce a burden for women and girls. I think that's my hope.

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