“After six months to a year of service, we wouldn’t menstruate any more because of malnutrition and the stressful environment,” the former soldier, Lee So Yeon, told the BBC. “The female soldiers were saying that they are glad that they are not having periods. They were saying that they were glad because the situation is so bad if they were having periods too that would have been worse.”

The North Korean army didn’t provide the female soldiers with sufficient menstrual products; they were forced not only to reuse sanitary pads, but to wash those pads—which were made of white cotton—when the male soldiers were asleep. The fact that physical and emotional stressors eventually made the women stop getting their periods entirely was considered a small mercy by So Yeon and her peers.