The One Thing Women And Girls In Crisis Need (That No One Wants To Talk About)

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Women and girls in crisis situations often lack access to essential items like undergarments and sanitary items. Without these basic necessities, girls cannot attend school and women struggle to work, limiting their financial independence.

The non-profit The Unmentionables is trying to fix this by providing women and girls in crisis with access to undergarments, feminine hygiene products, sexual health products, and family-planning related education. To date, the organization has supplied more than 147,581 intimate health products. This month The Unmentionables announced former model turned entrepreneur Kimora Lee Simmons as the Global Ambassador for the organization.

“ In times of disaster, undergarments and feminine hygiene products are oftentimes completely overlooked. But can you imagine being a woman (or a girl) whose life circumstances have radically changed for the worse, and you are without even the most basic of normalcies?”, says Simmons.

Last year Simmons supported The Unmentionables relief efforts in Houston, following Hurricane Harvey. She has also funded the distribution of reusable menstrual products.

“Most of these girls have been without family-planning education for most of their lives. These countries are either war torn or they do not see the value of educating young women about these topics. These products and programs have the ability to empower and protect refugees from disease and infection, she says.

In this interview, Simmons shares how we can support women and girls — in war-torn countries and here in the United States - by giving them access to the one thing they really need.

Michelle King: Can you share an example of how The Unmentionables is making an impact?

Kimora Lee Simmons: I saw this need right here at home when I brought my family to Houston in the wake of Hurricane Harvey in August 2017. After a natural disaster like Harvey, people are inclined to donate more items like food, clean water, clothing, toys and diapers immediately. But many people fail to consider items like underwear, tampons and sanitary pads. In Houston, we met with women who had lost everything in the flood. Access to personal products made an unspeakable impact and helped them to reclaim their dignity.

King: And how does this work support refugees?  

Simmons: In many of these places, sexual and reproductive health could not be discussed openly. Conversations regarding it were censored or information was inaccurately provided.  For example, one of our community educators, (who now teaches other women and girls about sexual and reproductive health in our center in Athens), wished she had access to this information when she was young.  She was married and had her first child before the age of 15. By becoming a community educator through our programs, she fulfilled her dream of becoming a teacher — a job not accessible to her in her own country because she is a woman. She is also now able to teach subjects that empower many more women and girls so that they can make safe and well-informed decisions for their future.

King: Why do you think there is a lack of awareness of this issue and the daily challenges refugees face?

Simmons: I’m a firm believer that we cannot ignore the refugee crisis happening globally. Americans tend to be quite sheltered from worldwide epidemics, because the level of suffering is either too personally painful to comprehend, or because we allow ourselves to be consumed by our own politics and biases. But the plight of refugees, who in this case are streaming largely from the Middle East and sub-Saharan Africa,  should be recognized as an immense humanitarian concern This crosses party lines and warrants compassion on the global stage.

King: What is your advice to people who want to get involved?  

Simmons: People need to educate themselves — to pay attention to the news, and sometimes even seek news sources outside of the American media who may not give this epidemic the coverage it deserves. Also, The Unmentionables offers a wide array of volunteer opportunities, including translators as well as development-related volunteers at home. The refugees that this organization supports are in dire need of support and global attention. I want refugee families to know that we have not forgotten them and that we are there to keep them safe.

Michelle King is a leading global gender equality expert, with a focus on advancing women in the changing world of work. To stay up to date follow Michelle @michpking.