War, refugees and lingerie

From my own experiences working with refugees in Africa, I know how some needs are often overlooked by the big aid organizations, which focus on food, shelter and the like.  However, the little things are sometimes very important, as this article in the Telegraph illustrates.

My first 12 days [in Arsal, Lebanon] are spent distributing clothing, school text books, hospital operating gowns, water tanks and heating oil for schools and hospitals. All this while trying to avoid detection by the camp ‘roosters’ – informants who report on us directly to the militants.

We’re doing our best, with limited resources. But I meet misery every day; all day. A 9-year-old girl badly burnt in shelling with no money for medication. Destitute families about to be evicted from their filthy storeroom. No access to drinking water.

. . .

Then, suddenly, a whole new need opens up in front of me.

After almost two weeks here, I’m taken aside by a woman who manages one of the refugee camps.

She has a request. She seems desperate. But I can’t make out what she’s asking for.

My interpreter is a young, handsome Syrian student – a strict Muslim and one of the kindest people I’ve ever met. But now – as this Syrian woman pleads with me – he looks mortified. He can’t seem to form the words.

Frantic now, the woman ushers me to the back of the tent and picks up a grubby white bra and a sanitary towel.

I understand. Every woman here needs underwear. There’s plenty of donated soap and toothpaste – but no knickers. No sanitary protection. Imagine coping with your period using rags. How would you wash and dry them in three feet of snow, or summer temperatures of 95 degrees when water is so scarce? How do you do this discreetly in camp life?

I decide we have to help. I’m a woman too and – although far removed from what they have to cope with – I instantly grasp how hard it must be.

I jump in a van but alone, running the gauntlet of Hezbollah checkpoints, and take the one hour trip down to the town of Baalbeck with $800 from EDA in my pocket.

My heart begins to sink as I enter the haberdashery shop.

How to do this? How do I buy this much underwear? How do I shop in Arabic with no interpreter?

A bold attack, I decide, is the only way. I grab a handful of knickers and bras and wave them madly above my head.

At first, people back away in fear at this crazy western woman.

I refuse to be cowed – it’s too late to back off now – I briefly wonder if they have lunatic asylums in Lebanon. Waving the underwear around my head, I shout: ‘more knickers – I need more knickers!’

There’s more at the link.  Highly recommended reading.

The problem of menstrual cycles is even worse in some parts of Africa where women are considered ‘unclean’ during their periods.  Worse still, there are men who look for young girls who have just entered puberty.  Their embarrassment at dealing with an unfamiliar period, particularly in a culture where it’s taboo to discuss it or show that it’s going on, marks them out as targets for those who believe that sleeping with a virgin will cure venereal disease, even AIDS.  Needless to say, they don’t bother to seduce them – they just rape them.

Most Western feminists have no idea what real feminine oppression is all about.  None whatsoever.  I’m proud to have done my small part in rescuing at least some women from that burden, for however long I could . . . but I don’t suppose that matters at all to the SJW‘s.


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