While Europe is experiencing the biggest influx of refugees to its shores since the Second World War, countries in West and Central Africa are in the midst of a refugee crisis of even greater proportions and spilling across many national borders.
According to UNHCR, 80 per cent of the world’s refugees are being hosted by developing countries. Sub-Saharan Africa alone hosts more than 29 per cent of the world’s displaced people, numbering more than 20 million people.
Included in this figure are more than 240,000 people who have fled violence in Central African Republic (CAR) and become refugees in Cameroon, as well as tens of thousands who have sought refuge in the Diffa region of southern Niger.
WSSCC and UN Women are hosting a Joint Programme on Gender and Sanitation. In Cameroon, their partners have been working with the Ministry of Women’s Empowerment and Family to identify the needs of women and young girls in refugee camps in order to improve menstrual hygiene management and integrate the issue into the humanitarian response.
Following efforts to raise awareness among refugees and humanitarian actors in May, UN Women and other partners conducted information-gathering site visits in the Gado-Badzere, Ngam and Timangolo refugee camps in the eastern part of Cameroon.
The partners have conducted similar investigations into the needs of displaced women and young girls in refugee camps in the Diffa region of Niger. The Gado-Badzere refugee camp is located near the border town of Garoua-Boulai, where the majority of CAR refugees cross into Cameroon.
With a population of nearly 24,000, it is host to the largest number of refugees from CAR. UNHCR reports that there is one latrine for every 47 refugees in the camp.
“We have limited toilets in the camp which makes it very difficult, particularly when we are menstruating, the toilets are not very clean,” said refugee Aminatou Damzy.
The team in Cameroon held meetings with the management of each camp and held focus group discussions with nearly 300 male and female residents of all ages. They worked to identify the problems and needs of women and young girls and help formulate recommendations across the three priority areas of the Joint Programme, which are to break the silence on menstruation, promote a sound management of menstruation and a proper waste management/reuse of sanitary materials.
The Cameroon mission has delivered recommendations, with plans to organize MHM-lab sessions in camps to increase knowledge about menstruation and dispel the myths. Recommendations include the development of a MHM hygiene model that is adapted to the specific needs of refugee camps, increasing the number of toilets and water points, repairing existing facilities that are currently out-of-order and making toilets and showers accessible for the disabled, elderly and children. Importantly, it is suggested that awareness of menstrual waste management is built, alongside systems for waste management and treatment.
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