COVID-19, which led to panic buying globally, left supermarkets devoid of products necessary for basic needs like eating, using the toilet, and sleeping. For women, menstrual management, though often overlooked and stigmatized, is a basic need. Silently, periods continue during pandemics. Millions struggle to manage their menstruation in a healthy and dignified way. Many lack access to basic menstrual products, water and toilets.
Period Taboos Don’t Stop During Pandemics Either
“I’m experiencing period pain, but have to take care of three patients who need my help.”
Women account for almost 70% of healthcare professionals, and are the main carers of children, elderly, and sick. Yet, their periods are forgotten, hidden and dismissed. Blogger Audrey Jiajia Li exposed the problem of female Chinese healthcare workers who, dressed in their protective gears, were unable to change their menstrual products or take a day off for the pain.
Women sustain the social and healthcare workforce. Yet, their menstrual needs are unaccounted for in service planning and delivery. Period products are not considered necessities by many in leadership positions -mostly men – which has a direct impact on women’s lives and on the pursuit of gender equity. Thus, the first step for good health and effective gender equality is acknowledging and addressing the needs and issues around menstruation.
Period Poverty Continues
“If we need to wear masks, they should be given for free.”
On social media, I read these attention-grabbing words. I think about the millions of women who cannot afford menstrual hygiene products.
Among poor and marginalized communities, 1 in 10 people struggle to afford these products. This is becoming an increasing issue worldwide with more people burdened financially from COVID-19 related layoffs.
Unfortunately, the most affected women and girls are the poorest. When faced with choosing between food and pads, food is the obvious choice. However, inaccessibility to menstrual hygiene products impact females’ health and everyday lives.
“If we need to wash our hands, we need access to clean water and toilets.”
Although access to sanitary products is essential, other obstacles to safe menstrual management exist. This includes access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH).
The Coronavirus pandemic demonstrates inequalities between people. Health authorities are clear – washing hands with soap for at least 20 seconds kills the virus. While this gesture seems simple, for the 3 billion people worldwide who don’t have access to running water and who lack hand-washing facilities at home or in school, it may not be.
Adequate WASH is not just essential to prevent Covid-19 infections. WASH also plays a large role in menstrual health and hygiene. Being unable to wash your sanitary materials or clean your hands may lead to vaginal infections. Being unable to change or dispose of sanitary materials from insufficient toilets at work or school may lead to women and girls choosing to stay home.
Period Activists (and Nonprofits) Keep Working
COVID-19 and menstrual management have more things in common than one may think. They disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people and hinder women and girls reaching their full potential.
COVID-19 has brought existing inequalities to light and the fight for gender equity through good menstrual health is a dimension that shouldn’t be forgotten. Activists and organizations have been working for years to abolish period stigma, improve WASH and obtain affordable menstrual health products for all. COVID-19 and the measures to contain its spread have impacted their work.
However, period activists, NGOs and nonprofits have not stopped. In fact, they are more active now than ever. They have shown an immense ability to adapt, with DIY online workshops for reusable menstrual products, improved distribution of supplies for the most vulnerable communities, and groundbreaking awareness and advocacy campaigns.
Swedish Organization for Global Health webinar, Periods in Pandemics: menstrual health activism during the COVID-19 crisis was held on May 28th. Menstrual Hygiene Day hosted our conversation with menstrual health activists and nonprofit workers from Sweden, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya. They spoke about the challenges they face and, most importantly, how they are overcoming them.
Find the recording of the our webinar below.