Vanuatu is made up of more than 80 small islands that regularly experience natural disasters, including volcanic eruptions, cyclones, earthquakes, tsunamis, storm surges, coastal flooding, and landslides.
According to Sandra, the urgent need for a MHM kit was recognised by a Vanuatu Red Cross health coordinator after the most recent series of natural disasters.
“The Vanuatu Red Cross National Society has a very good health coordinator who recognised the need to support displaced women in managing their menstrual hygiene,” Sandra said.
“Currently, family kits that do contain some sanitary materials are distributed to displaced and impacted families, but it’s not a targeted approached. You could have a family with no menstruating women or a family with six daughters who are menstruating both receiving the same kit.
“The Vanuatu Red Cross is aiming to prepare menstrual hygiene kits so that when a disaster occurs, the kits are ready to be distributed to each individual menstruating woman,” Sandra said.
“Before putting the kits together, it is important to talk to women about what should be included.”
Sandra is leading a research project to determine the sanitary protection needs and preferences of women and girls in Vanuatu. She will also explore the socio-cultural aspects of menstruation likely to impact menstrual hygiene management in disaster settings.
“We have recruited nearly 200 women in a range of age groups and marital statuses across four locations. Those women have been given one of four different sanitary products, two re-usable and two disposable, to trial for us over two months.”
This month, Sandra will travel to Vanuatu and work with Vanuatu Red Cross Society staff and volunteers to conduct a number of focus groups with participants.
“Apart from sanitary product preferences, we will be asking the participants about other items that should be included in an MHM kit and things that may impact on their ability to manage menstrual hygiene in the context of a disaster,” Sandra said.
“We will also be talking to a number of women and girls with disabilities so that their unique needs are also captured in the study. The outcomes of this research will not only inform the content of the MHM kits but will also identify opportunities for the Vanuatu Red Cross Society to strengthen their programming and interventions to support girls and women in the safe and dignified management of menstruation in an emergency setting."
“When women are displaced, they need access to sanitary materials and other commodities that will help them manage menstruation in a dignified and safe manner.”
Sandra Downing, Senior Lecturer