The Covid-19 pandemic has turned the world topsy-turvy. Millions have been infected by the virus and several thousands have lost their lives. Million others have lost their jobs because of the lockdown. But enough has been said and written about this during the entirety of the lockdown. Through this article, I would like to divert your attention to a less discussed issue related to current times-challenges faced by menstruating women during the pandemic lockdown.
First and foremost, the pandemic has put tremendous pressure on the female frontline health care workers for the past several months. Working overtime and multiple shifts has been causing them severe mental and physical stress. In addition to this, they face extreme difficulties during their menstrual cycles. They are being compelled to compromise on their menstrual hygiene as they are confined to their PPE kits for several hours. Many of them have even started consuming pills to skip their periods since no other alternative to maintain their menstrual hygiene is being provided to them.
Even under ordinary circumstances, millions living in poverty were incapable of purchasing menstrual hygiene products and usually depended on government schemes to obtain them for free or at subsidized prices. But the lockdown meant complete or partial discontinuation of such schemes and aid work. For instance, girls in many regions in India received free sanitary napkins at school under government schemes. But the schools got closed due to the lockdown and these girls didn’t have access to them anymore. Many of these women and girls have now been compelled to use old cloth material, mud, cow dung etc. while menstruating due to the stoppage of supplies.
Women and girls from low-income households face additional challenges. They usually live in settlements where the water resources are scarce and the pandemic has caused the individuals living here to divert this valuable resource for other purposes like washing their hands. This has invariably led to the depletion of water resources. Thus, leaving lesser water for women to maintain their menstrual hygiene. Moreover, these women are also being denied access to facilities for cleaning and changing because the public toilets that they usually used have been shut down due to the pandemic.
Women who could earlier buy menstrual products at market price too are facing difficulties due to shortage or disruption in supply chains, and closure of public transport and stores. Furthermore, the prices of these products have been increased at various places due to shortage, thus making them inaccessible to many more women. The Plan International in its report ‘Periods in a Pandemic’ observes that middle-class and upper-middle class women have been stockpiling sanitary napkins and tampons during the lockdown. Thus, depriving lower class women of these products.
Menstruating women are also facing several obstacles during the lockdown due to reinforcement of old myths and formation of new ones. UNICEF reported that people in numerous countries believed that menstruation made women more vulnerable to the Covid-19 virus and that they were also more likely to transmit the virus to others. These myths create new barriers for women and adds to their burden.
This is also a very peculiar and strenuous time for young girls who have just entered puberty or will enter in the coming weeks or months. Most young girls in this country as well as in others are made aware about menses and menstrual hygiene through school curriculum and programs because most parents are reluctant to discuss these topics with their daughters. With the schools either going online or being completely shut down, adolescent girls don’t have access to these puberty education and menstrual hygiene management curriculum/program anymore. Plan International suggests that these topics be included in remote and online learning curriculums, and the Ministry of Education build these programs into its response.
Apart from this, Plan International’s report also recommends that every country’s Ministry of Health build the Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) into their Covid-19 response so as to attend to the needs of female health-care workers and the entire female population. In times like these, the need for a sound menstrual hygiene management policy and its proper implementation becomes more important than ever.
It also important to prioritize the needs of the most vulnerable and disadvantaged, such as disabled persons, transgenders and those living in abject poverty, in such policies. These groups of people are discriminated against and deprived of menstrual knowledge and resources even under normal circumstances. The pandemic has further aggravated their situation and pushed them to the brink.
The government and our society need to play an active role to minimize the grievances of all menstruating persons. The government should invest more on water, sanitation and hygiene facilities so that more women gain access to them and we, as a society, need to work together on mitigating menstrual myths and taboos.