As the coronavirus pandemic wreaks havoc, worldwide, on public health and the global economy, the rhythm of life as we knew it, has come to an end. With nations under lockdown and social distancing enforced in all countries, governments are focused on what will work best to protect the most vulnerable sections of the population. COVID-19 has spurred travel restrictions, working from home, self-quarantine and isolation, and those with means and opportunity have stocked up on toilet paper to an extent that they won’t require to buy it for another decade or so!
One potential blind spot in the government policies and preparations to tackle the essential needs of the population as we battle the pandemic: the interventions overlook and to some extent undermine the women’s essential needs. Menstruation, a natural process experienced by nearly half the population of the world, is still a dirty secret in countries all over the world, a taboo and stigma that women deal with on a daily basis.
Millions of people who menstruate find it difficult to manage their monthly cycle safely, comfortably and with dignity. Girls and women often face inadequate access to toilets, water and sanitary pads, and other basic materials to manage blood flow such as menstrual products, underwear, and soaps. To add to their misery, the menstrual taboo restricts their movement and behaviour which might act as a hurdle in their daily life with respect to school, work and other events. As we all know, a lack of menstrual hygiene leads to a greater risk of infections, discomfort and a negative impact on mental wellbeing, it is extremely important to ensure that women receive adequate assistance in menstrual hygiene. The consequences of poor hygiene can turn quite detrimental in present times.
With the measures to contain COVID-19 extending into the summers, product availability and medical assistance will be affected due to store closures and stock-outs. The poor and marginalised communities are the worst hit in such times. The current pandemic highlights and exacerbates the challenges faced by girls and women face the world over.
As we battle the novel coronavirus, there are certain steps that need to be taken to assist women in dealing with menstrual hygiene issues arising due to the pandemic. It is critical to include menstrual health and hygiene as a part of the COVID-19 emergency response. Menstrual products need to be designated as essential commodities to minimise the barriers in manufacturing and supply. All of this needs to be done keeping in mind the protection guidelines against COVID-19. It is also important to continue the interventions to tackle the stigma and provide information about periods in all sections of society. Especially about homemade alternatives for those who cannot gain access to menstrual products.
Menstrual Hygiene Day, celebrated on 28th May, aims at creating awareness about the importance of maintaining menstrual hygiene and breaking the taboo around periods. This year it is also focusing on how periods do not stop for pandemics and should not be overlooked while battling other demons.