Periods Don’t Stop During Pandemics

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.

There is no health without sexual and reproductive health, and there is no sexual and reproductive health without menstrual health

Period products during pandemics

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.

Why Menstrual Products Should be Free for All

I believe change is possible. I envision a world where those in remote rural areas, as well as other disadvantaged communities like mine, can have their periods with dignity.

In this world, young people would not have to miss out on classes because they have no proper menstrual products. For many young girls, menstruation is an addition to the long list of gender disparities they face every day of their lives. I find it almost unbelievable that having to go through a period without appropriate products can infringe on the most basic human rights of girls – including access to education.

In Zimbabwe, many girls in remote rural regions, and other disadvantaged areas such as farming communities, stay at home for the entire length of their periods.

This is primarily because of the fear and shame that exists around leaking in front of others. Sometimes girls use discarded cloth, but this does not offer sufficient protection on their long walks to school. It is these fears which prompt them to stay home and miss out their classes. If girls miss out on classes, they won’t be able to excel in their studies, which not only impacts negatively on the girl herself, but on her community as a whole.

The education of girls is undeniably one of the primary focus areas of development efforts, as female school achievement is believed to have long-lasting and far-reaching economic effects. Sustainable Development Goal 4 aims to achieve inclusive and equitable quality education for all by 2030. To meet this aim, I believe that it’s imperative to provide free menstrual products for all.

The difficulty of using cloth while on your period is that you need to wash, dry and change the cloth. However, many schools don’t have facilities where girls can wash themselves and change their cloths, and there is nowhere to hang cloths to dry. This helps to explain why many stay home once a month, and demonstrates the importance of free provision of menstrual products to girls from disadvantaged communities in Zimbabwe and elsewhere around the world.

Stigma and gender disparities are still rife within many communities in Zimbabwe, and it should be noted that the subject of menstrual health remains a taboo. Parents don’t discuss it with their children, which leaves girls to suffer from pain and shame in silence.

In my community, there are many negative cultural attitudes associated with menstruation, including the idea that menstruating people are ‘contaminated’, ‘dirty’ and ‘impure’.

Stigma puts young girls in particular in an extremely difficult position – if they don’t have proper menstrual products, they leak. If they are seen with stained clothes, they risk being socially segregated.

I believe that one day, people from disadvantaged communities like mine will be free to experience their periods with dignity. Girls will be able to attend school, excel in their studies and, above all, stand and fight against stigma and discrimination. I believe that this begins with access to free menstrual products for all.

5 Instagram Accounts Tackling Menstrual Stigma

While the silence and stigma surrounding menstruation may be far from broken, it is definitely showing cracks. Here are 5 taboo-tackling accounts to follow to help celebrate and normalize menstruation – one double tap at a time.

1. Pink Bits

This Australian artist posts illustrations to celebrate “the bits and shapes we’re told to hide”. Period-positive, body-positive and just really cute, these illustrations will cheer up any Insta feed.

A post shared by Pink Bits (@pink_bits) on

2. Clue

Clue is a period tracking app and an encyclopedia of informative articles on menstrual and reproductive health. On Instagram, they share some of the lastest scientific research in a way that’s informative and easy to understand.

3. Bloody Good Period

Bloody Good Period provide menstrual supplies for asylum seekers, refugees & those who can’t afford them by collecting donations and distributing via drop-in centres and food banks across the UK. On social media they’re opening up conversations by posting reminders that periods are natural, NOT shameful.

4. Menstrugram

This Berlin-based art project is a “rebellion against the taboo”. The photographs are all of menstrual blood, which – being really honest – I found quite shocking at first. This made me realise I’d never ever seen an image of real period blood before, and proves the entire point of the project.

A post shared by Menstru gram (@menstrugram) on

5. BLOB.gram

Feeling tired of the ‘empowered’ and ‘positive’ period campaigns they kept seeing, menstrual and sexual health specialists Terri & Lily created BLOB – a space to acknowledge that periods can have a negative side too. Their Instagram is a joyful feed of frank, honest and inclusive info on periods, menstrual and sexual health.

Am I missing something? Who would you add to this list? Leave a comment if you have any suggestions, and make sure you’re following Girls’ Globe on Instagram too!

Menstrual Cups: Breaking the Bloody Taboo

The menstrual cup has gained a lot of traction in recent years. By some, it is seen as just an eco-friendly hipster trend, but for women across the world it provides a cost-effective, safe way to manage periods. For those of you who haven’t heard of a menstrual cup, let me give you a breakdown...

The menstrual cup was invented in the 1920s (yes, that’s right, almost 100 years ago). It is a reusable device to collect menstrual blood during your period. Inserted into the vagina, it sits comfortably underneath your cervix for around 4-8 hours. It is then washed and reinserted, and this is repeated until the last day of your period. Cups are made from medical-grade silicon, and therefore hypoallergenic as there are no nasty chemicals.

One menstrual cup lasts for ten years, so as long as you sterilise your cup at the end of every cycle, you can use it for a decade.

The majority of people will argue that cups are revolutionary because they are healthier, safer and cost-effective – which is true. However for me, the cup’s real revolution is the closeness it creates between you and your period.

As menstruators, we are taught that our period is something to be embarrassed of. We are taught to hide our menstrual products from anyone and everyone. We are constantly bombarded with adverts which detach us from the reality of menstrual blood. The language we hear and use makes us feel periods are unclean, and something we should be ashamed of.

The menstrual taboos of shame and uncleanliness make women squeamish about their own natural bodily process. But, the process of using a menstrual cup means you have no choice but to get down and dirty with your period.

The first time I used my menstrual cup, I felt empowered. It was the first time I had properly understood my vagina, my menstrual cycle and my menstrual blood. I will admit that at first I was a bit apprehensive about being so intimate with my period-y self, but after the first try, I was sold.

The cup requires more insertion than a tampon, and in order to remove and reuse, you’ve really got to get intimate with your vagina. The first few times may get a little messy. You may be confused about your downstairs anatomy. Or, you may never have been so close to that region before. Yes, it is strange at first. But before long, it stops feeling strange and starts to feel like a revalation.

After years of feeling ashamed of and disgusted by my body during menstruation, I finally felt comfortable and intimate with my menstruating self.

Cups can offer a positive alternative to other products for women across the world. They reduce the waste that ends up in landfills and the impact of our carbon footprint. They provides a safe alternative to the leading brands of tampons, which are bleached. Using cups puts a middle finger up to the corporations who profit from shaming our bodies by telling us our periods are discreet. And, they are safer because they doesn’t absorb the vagina’s natural fluids in the way other products do.

Whilst all those things are great, they don’t stop young people from feeling humiliation, fear and shame when they first get their period. In order to bring about real change, we must start with eradicating taboos.

The cup is the tool just for that. When you’re comfortable with your period, you become curious and intrigued by your anatomy. When you begin to speak frankly about menstruating you can change other people’s perceptions about their periods too. The cup is the gateway to being open and honest about your period. Being frank about menstruating may just steer girls away from those feelings of embarrassment and shame.

Perceptions around periods need to change. We need to stop making people feel grossed-out and ashamed of menstrual blood. Periods are a necessary and normal part of a woman’s reproductive system, so what’s the big deal? It’s time to get up close and personal with your menses

As an avid menstrual cup user and trainer, I can happily say that after two decades of hiding from menstruation, and of feeling dirty and ashamed, I no longer do. I want everyone who experiences menstruation to feel the same. After all, there really is no point crying over spilt blood.

Yes, I’m on my Period. No, I’m Not Dirty.

Today, my period came a couple of days earlier than usual so it caught me off guard at work. I asked a co-worker if she had a pad or tampon I could borrow. She handed me a case that she expected me to take to the bathroom and return.

Instead, I opened it and took out the pad. She looked at me and asked, “don’t you mind walking around with it?” I replied, “I don’t, it’s perfectly natural.” When I returned to my desk I started thinking…why is being in your period still frowned upon? God forbid someone hears you say the word ‘menstruation’, because it is ‘rude’ to talk about the topic in public.

It’s 2020 and the cashier at the drug store still looks at me strangely when I buy tampons and say no thank you when she offers me a plastic bag. How dare I walk down the street without hiding my malign purchase?

For centuries, women on their periods have been thought of as ‘dirty’ or ‘impure’. This has to stop. It is a social construction that leads to gender discrimination, misinformation and taboos.

This experience I had at work came at a very convenient moment since last week the documentary Period. End of Sentence won an Oscar. This brilliant documentary shows us how women in rural India fight for menstrual equality. But our sisters in India aren’t the only ones battling with this issue.

At least 500 million women and girls globally lack space and supplies for handling their periods.

In Mexico, where 44% of our women live in poverty, many don’t even have access to decent period care, let alone healthcare supplies. This lack of healthcare access causes them to live in hygiene crisis and at risk of infection.

In some countries, menstrual supplies are no longer taxed and in others they are totally free of cost. Governments needs to be on our side with these initiatives so women from more vulnerable social situations don’t have to choose between food on their plate or menstrual supplies.

As women, we need to empower other women to speak freely about their periods without embarrassment or shame.

We need to speak our minds when we are faced with stigma and taboo.

Men need to stop ignoring or repelling us whenever we talk about menstruation and get involved in listening to what this process means to us and how we get through it.

It’s 2020. Menstruation is natural. Let’s end period taboo once and for all.

Improving Menstrual Hygiene in Zimbabwe’s Schools

My name is Marvellous Chimhutu and I am a student at Young Africa Academy, located in the Epworth suburb in Zimbabwe. I am a 15-year-old girl, the eldest in a family of five (two boys, two girls, and our mother Lisana) and currently doing my Form Three secondary education.

I am part of a group of learners who have been participating in CARE-supported guidance and counseling lessons since Form One.

Where I come from, people do not talk about pads and menstruation.

It is considered taboo to discuss these issues, and for a girl like me it requires bravery to ask for help. I discovered that this was not unique to me and my family. Many girls at school have challenges preparing for our first periods and we aren’t taught how to manage them.

Marvellous Chumhutu. Photo by CARE.

Like all other girls of my age, when I started having my period I felt stuck and didn’t know what to do. While l was very excited at the thought of growing up, I didn’t know how to manage it and was afraid of being laughed at if I spoiled my uniform at school. One time when it happened, I hid myself in the toilet waiting for the bell to ring so that I could escape and go home. I stayed at home for the whole week until the period ended.

What excites me and my friends is that the lessons we’ve received have raised my awareness of adolescent sexual reproductive health – among other issues and needs specific to being a girl. The most common issues have been around menstrual hygiene. The major challenge for me was getting pads to use, and then to know where I could discard the used ones at both at home and at school.

Our teacher, Ms. Warikandwa, noticed that most girls would be absent for days when they were on their periods, so she had to do mass counseling sessions to teach us how to prepare. I learned to keep myself clean. Later in the term, we all had lessons about menstrual hygiene, both boys and girls. We now know that it is a natural process. We have also tackled the topic in science and I proudly aced it.

The boys have stopped laughing at us when we spoil our uniforms (they now find the teacher for us).

We used CARE’s Community Score Card (CSC) as a platform to present our need for menstrual hygiene support from our families and at school. We were able to demonstrate to our parents, teachers, and school administration that periods were contributing to absenteeism and poor academic results among girls. After that, we made plans to construct an incinerator, install mirrors in the toilets, and for the school to keep emergency sanitary wear for us at school in case we need them.

The school was very supportive, and I feel proud that I was one of the advocates in this process. Now we have special bins to dispose of used sanitary wear and an incinerator.

My confidence has improved when I participate in class and sports because I can manage my periods.

I am also happy that I can also share information to help my sisters and friends at home. l thank my teacher for being there for me, I have all the information I need. I wish every girl could be empowered with the same knowledge and information that I have.