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Sanitary Protection Raises Alarm, Provokes Dialogue at CAI

BBC reporter Claire Read explains how a tampon found on her person during a routine pat-down in Cairo prompted first bafflement, then a conversation.

A woman’s choice of sanitary protection may not raise eyebrows elsewhere in the world, but for one BBC reporter traveling through Cairo International Airport (CAI), a single tampon was cause for alarm.

The BBC‘s Claire Read was making her way through CAI and undergoing a routine body search when a tampon was found on her person by a female member of the airport’s security staff.

Writing on the outlet’s website, she described the incident, saying, “A uniformed woman ran her hands down my body and legs and came back up to find a lump in my right-hand jeans pocket. It was small and bullet-shaped. The guard pointed and said, in Egyptian Arabic, “What’s that?”.”

“I pulled it out […] then realized that to my horror, I was waving a tampon in her face. She raised her eyebrows, apparently oblivious to my embarrassment, then looked perplexed,” Read said.

In her piece, the BBC reporter then goes on to explain how periods, puberty and sex education are all taboo subjects in Egyptian society. “Tampons are not discussed as an option because of the fear that they take a girl’s virginity,” she explains.

Read added that, “when retelling this story to Egyptian friends and other foreigners living in Egypt, I heard plenty of similar tales of Egyptian security guards’ bafflement and many questions from curious women.”

After having her luggage examined and explaining how this particular form of sanitary protection worked, Read was free to go. But before she could pass through security, the intrigued female guard asked her, “Can you get these in Egypt?”.

“I told her with delight that indeed you can, and suggested she keep the instructions […] But I’m reminded now always to keep a tampon in my pocket at airport security to bring more women into the fold,” Read said.

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