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The Struggle of Young Haitian Women: Between Precarity and Menstrual Protection


The widespread and continued price increases is severely impacting young women in the country

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In a context of the unabated price increases of food and hygiene products, women bear a considerable burden, exacerbated by the feminization of poverty in the country, according to testimonies collected by AyiboPost. 

« Sometimes, I am even unable to afford basic necessities », says Mama, a sandal vendor in Carrefour. She affirms that she goes to the Tabarre communal market at least once a week, braving the perils of Martissant, in order to buy a few pairs of sandals bound for resale with great difficulty.

« I can go nearly a month without using toothpaste for lack of means to buy any. I’m forced to use whatever is left in the tube for a few days, and then I have to resort to baking soda because the price of the toothpaste I usually use skyrocketed from 300 to 750 gourdes in the blink of an eye. »

Women bear a considerable burden, exacerbated by the feminization of poverty in the country.

Haiti recorded an annual inflation rate of 48.2% in February 2023. « I can’t take it anymore, » continues the woman in her fifties, the sole provider for a family of eight to feed. « I don’t demand a life of luxury, but having a normal life would be more than enough for me. »

Women are often more affected by inflation in Haiti as they are more likely to have lower incomes and greater family responsibilities. They are also overrepresented in the informal sectors of the economy, where incomes are often unstable and social protections are limited.

Nana, a young student in education sciences living in Carrefour, confesses that she now resorts to using handmade cloth substitutes instead of sanitary pads for personal hygiene.

Read also : School ordeal for teenagers after abortion in Haiti

« In order to make the most of a pack of only eight sanitary pads, I was sometimes forced to use a single pad for an entire day. Sometimes, it would give me a rather uncomfortable itchy sensation, » the young student tells AyiboPost.

This image shows prices of sanitary napkins in a supermarket in Port-au-Prince on May 15, 2023. For the « Lia » Ultra Soft Over Night brand, a pack of 8 units costs 170 gourdes. BF Kotex Ultra Normal, containing 14 units, is priced at 382.50 gourdes. And for the BF Ultra Night brand, which contains 10 units, the cost is 382.50 gourdes.

​​Nana, who prefers to use her nickname in order to speak openly, no longer counts the sacrifices she has made in recent years in an attempt to survive. In 2022, she abandoned her studies at the Faculty of Law and Economic Sciences in Gonaïves due to the difficulties she faced in covering the costs.

« Today, I can have 500 gourdes in my pocket and not be able to afford food for the day because that money is set aside for copying and transportation expenses. I sacrifice myself! » says the young woman.

A variety of sanitary napkin brands available in a supermarket in Port-au-Prince on May 15, 2023.

« Four years ago, with the income from my business, I could buy all of my products – perfume, deodorant, sanitary pads – in packs of three, » explains Nana. However, the small business went belly up earlier this year. And « it is by selling animals in the provinces » that Nana manages to make ends meet during these difficult times.

Improper use of sanitary pads can be detrimental to women’s health.

For this article, AyiboPost asked 40 young women, professionals, and students from the metropolitan region about how frequently they change their sanitary pads. 40% of them stated that they change their pads once a day due to their economic inability to purchase multiple packs. 50% said they are forced to change twice a day due to heavy flow. Only 10% of them have managed to approach the recommended frequency by specialists, which is three times a day.

Read also : Condoms are increasingly expensive in Haiti

Improper use of sanitary pads can be detrimental to women’s health. Dr. Stéphane Michel, an obstetrician-gynecologist and physician at the maternity ward of Hôpital de la Paix, mentions allergic reactions and vulvar infections caused by the proliferation of microbes in the blood accumulated in the pad, among other concerns.

Rove Jeantuse Jean Michel, an employee at Radio Vision 2000, is struggling with the current inflation. « My salary doesn’t manage to cover all of my living expenses, » says Jean Michel.

Women are often more affected by inflation in Haiti as they are more likely to have lower incomes and greater family responsibilities.

To make ends meet, the young woman sells perfumes and clothing to people in her circle and through social media. « Sometimes, customers who make purchases can go up to three months without paying, » laments Jean Michel, who left her family home in Carrefour to settle in Delmas due to insecurity.

In February 2021, the Inter-American Development Bank (IDB) reported that women represented 80% of the informal sector workforce. Three out of four women were employed in the informal sector generating low revenues. Furthermore, they were more likely than men to experience unemployment, with a 5-percentage point gap (16% compared to 11% in 2017).

A street vendor in Port-au-Prince is offering hygiene products, including sanitary napkins, on May 15, 2023.

Marklyn is a graduating student at the Faculty of Humanities of the State University of Haiti. In August 2022, she lost an underpaid job at a law firm. « To be honest, I will do everything possible to leave the country, » she says. « I know I will have to start over, but I have come to terms with that. »

Read also :  Her neighborhood is controlled by gangs in Haiti. She pays a hefty price.

The young woman left Hinche, her hometown, almost six years ago to settle in Port-au-Prince to pursue her higher education with financial support from her parents. « I really love Haiti, and I also have dreams and goals, but today I no longer see a future, » Marklyn continues. She says she is forced to prioritize her education and associated costs such as transportation, photocopies, and food over purchasing cosmetic products for her personal care.

By Lucnise Duquereste

English translation by Sarah Jean

© Photos :  freepik

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Journaliste à AyiboPost depuis mars 2023, Duquereste est étudiante finissante en communication sociale à la Faculté des Sciences Humaines (FASCH).