Could a tampon change the lives of female asylum seekers and refugees in Australia?
That’s the hope of Destroy the Joint, a feminist group who is seeking justice for female asylum seekers and refugees who are forced to ask officers for tampons or maxi pads repeatedly, because they are only given one or two at a time.
The group has asked supporters to mail unused tampons and sanitary napkins to Scott Morrison, Federal Minister for Immigration and Border Protection, to send the government a message that this humiliating treatment of women must come to an end. Many women have obliged, making Morrison’s daily mail a bit more interesting these days. Take a look on Twitter under #stopthetampons and you can see some pretty creative D.I.Y. tampons, like some of my favorites below:
The Department of Justice claims that the accusations are “nonsense,” “completely false” and “misleading,” but according to an organization called RISE (Refugees, Survivors and Ex-Detainees), they’re very true. RISE points to an article written by a refugee advocate’s recent visit to a detention center which states:
Sanitary pads are doled out one at a time, so women need to repeat the humiliating ritual of requesting a fresh one each time they needed to replace a soiled one.
Women should have access to feminine hygiene products at their will, not at the will of officers who guard them. Seeking asylum is not a crime, but denying women basic rights and dignity is.
While having to ask for a tampon every time you need one is unnecessarily humiliating, the issue is actually much more complex. Destroy the Joint coordinator Jenna Price tells The Sydney Morning Herald:
The issue is that there is a continued attack on the health care of women in our detention centres. Tampons are a symbol of a lack of health care… it’s symbolic of the terrible health care that our asylum seekers and refugees get across the board.
Unfortunately this problem is not isolated to Australia. A report from Human Rights Watch has found that in the United States women in detention centers often face delays when seeking medical care or are denied entirely. Life-saving services such as pap smears to detect cervical cancer, mammograms to check for breast cancer, counseling for survivors of violence, and even basic supplies such as sanitary pads, like in Australia, are hard to come by. Of the treatment of women in detention centers Meghan Rhoad, researcher in the women’s rights division at Human Rights Watch, says:
Women in detention described violations such as shackling pregnant detainees or failing to follow up on signs of breast and cervical cancer, as well as basic affronts to their dignity. Because immigration detention is the fastest-growing form of incarceration in the United States, these abuses are especially dangerous. They remain largely hidden from public scrutiny or effective oversight.
A report from the ACLU found similar violations for women in Georgia detention centers. On top of the medical concerns, the ACLU report also found inadequate living conditions and frequent abuse by those in power.
Clearly reform is needed both in the United States and internationally to address the needs of women in detention centers. Refugee and asylum seekers are often victims of rape, sexual abuse and other forms of torture and trauma before being detained. Adding these violations to the list of abuses many women have already faced is wholly unjust.
For now you can help female asylum seekers and refugees in Australia by signing and sharing our Care2 petition.
Photo Credit: @AkosuaHeather via Twitter