Periods in humanitarian disasters | ActionAid UK

Periods in humanitarian disasters

In humanitarian disasters across the world, women tell us that amongst the items that they need the most are sanitary towels, wipes and soap, so that they can manage their periods hygienically and with dignity.

That’s why we provide kits containing these items in our humanitarian response work, alongside other essentials like food, water and shelter. Periods don’t stop in a crisis.

Why sanitary towels are a priority in a disaster 

Conflicts and natural disasters can leave women and girls without access to clean and safe sanitary products. This can be due to the lack of availability of these products, or the lack of funds to buy them. As a result, women and girls are forced to use improvised methods to manage their periods, including torn pieces of clothing, rags, dirty rugs or sitting on old tin cans

These alternative methods used by women and girls to manage their periods are often ineffective, uncomfortable and unhygienic. They can lead to dangerous infections, and blood stains which can cause women and girls to feel embarrassed and isolated during their period.


The contents of a ‘dignity kit’ that ActionAid distributed to refugee women in Greece. It includes sanitary towels, wipes, soap, a pair of pants, a toothbrush and toothpaste. 

Photo: Karin Schermbrucker/ActionAid

Putting menstrual hygiene at the heart of emergency response

Women and girls are particularly vulnerable in emergencies, disasters and conflict zones. ActionAid ensures that women are at the heart of our emergency response work, because they are amongst the first reponders to a crisis, and bring vital skills, resources and experience.

Because our emergency work is led by women, they ensure that the needs of women refugees and other vulnerable groups are met. That is why ActionAid recognises that access to clean and safe sanitary products is not a ‘nice-to-have’. 

How ActionAid distributes sanitary towels in an emergency

We have distributed sanitary towels in crises and natural disasters as wide-ranging as the Nepal earthquakes of 2015, in Greece at the height of the refugee crisis in 2015-2016, in Haiti after Hurricane Matthew in 2016, and in East Africa during the food crisis of 2017.

They are often distributed at our Women Friendly Spaces, which we set up in the aftermath of disasters to provide a safe space for women and girls who may be at risk of violence. 


Page updated 21 May 2019