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The Dignity of Shopping: Why Choice Matters

Victoria Borisch, The Unmentionables' Communications Director and Bianca Settino, The Unmentionables' Social Media Manager.

 

Dignity Through Hygiene, Dignity Through Choice

According to the UNHCR, there are more than 65.6 million displaced people in the world. Countless organizations are helping to provide these people with the necessities, but one thing is consistently missing when it comes to the provision of aid in migration situations: choice. Some will say that forcibly displaced people should just be grateful for what they are given, and we assure you they are. Every day, our team is overwhelmed by how thankful people are to receive a simple pair of clean underwear. In many cases, funds and supplies are limited, so offering a selection of products to choose from is not an option. However, here are three reasons why giving people the choice should be made a priority whenever possible. 

Preservation of dignity

Human dignity is a basic right preserved by the UN Declaration of Human Rights. In migration crises, people are often exposed to horrifying situations and terrible living conditions that interfere with their human rights and dignity. 

In situations of forced displacement, a small way to restore refugees’ dignity is through the provision of intimate health products. However, despite undergarments and personal hygiene items being basic needs, they are inconsistently provided during migration crises due to worldwide cultural taboos and lack of funding. When they are available, they are often distributed openly alongside other non-food items, neglecting the emotional and cultural needs of refugees, and creating a potentially uncomfortable and embarrassing situation for those receiving them. Gender and cultural sensitivity, as well as choice, are therefore essential for the dignified distribution of intimate health products. The Unmentionables Resource Center’s priorities focus on building trust, consistency, and human centric design to empower refugees with dignity. 

Reduction of waste

By conducting needs assessments and asking refugees directly what their preferences are for underwear, feminine hygiene products, and intimate health products, we order only what people want and require. All of our purchasing and in-kind donation partners are also informed by the wants and needs of the refugees we serve. The “shop” setup at The Unmentionables Resource Center in Athens makes it easy for us to keep track of what products and sizes are most popular, allowing us to only actively restock the ones that are being taken. This means that funds can be allocated towards specific products that we see have the highest demand. Providing products that will actually be used ensures that nothing goes to waste.

Empowerment

Choice is closely linked to power and independence, but refugees have no choice. They are forced to leave their homes, their families, and their possessions behind because of war, poverty, persecution, or natural disaster. Fleeing is not an option among many, it’s a survival strategy.

Once they arrive at their destination, refugees don’t gain their independence back. They become passive receivers of humanitarian aid and are restricted in the decisions they can make. As choice is not a common occurrence, refugees often receive products that they might not feel comfortable using or that do not fulfill their needs. At The Unmentionables Resource Center, we strive to empower refugees with choice by presenting them with genuine options. We ensure that they can safely choose their intimate health products, allowing each individual to decide the size, style, and type of product they prefer. Providing an environment in which refugees can “shop” to select their unmentionable products gives both privacy and individual agency back to them. 

We all deserve the basic dignity of hygiene. While forcibly displaced people don’t have a say in whether they are granted this right, our hygiene needs are met every day without us even noticing. Refugees often have no choice, but we do. Next time you walk into a store to buy intimate health products, take a moment to pause and be grateful for having the option to choose the items you want and need.