The World Menstrual Hygiene Day, observed on the 28th of May every year, is a particularly poignant and important one this year. Access to menstrual hygiene products has always been unstable and challenging for a large number of women, but has become drastically and dangerously more disrupted during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Women’s menstrual hygiene management is a prominent but unaddressed casualty of the COVID-19 lockdown.
UNICEF has said, “A lack of information about menstruation leads to damaging misconceptions and discrimination, and can cause girls to miss out on normal childhood experiences and activities.”
Lack of knowledge about menstrual health and poor menstrual hygiene management can have far-reaching impacts on women’s health, potential, and overall social status.
With Schools Shut Down During Lockdown, Girls Don’t Have Access To Sanitary Products
A free supply of sanitary pads has been distributed to girls at schools in low-income communities for a while now. With schools shutting down during the lockdown, a large volume of teenage girls have lost their access to sanitary napkins.
In just Uttar Pradesh, over 10 million girls are eligible for free sanitary pads that are distributed at schools. Even if a tenth of these girls were actually receiving and using them, that is still over a million girls from low-income families with access to safe menstrual hygiene products.
A girl from a village in Chitrakoot district of Uttar Pradesh, interviewed by Rural India Online, said that she received 3-4 sanitary pad packets in January from her school. Her stock of pads has come to an end, however, and she simply cannot afford to buy new ones – especially during these financially strained times for her family.
The cheapest pack of pads is six for Rs 30. She would need two packs in a month, and spending Rs 60 every month on sanitary products is a luxury she cannot afford.
She says she uses a piece of spare cloth during her period, and washes it before reusing it. When drying the cloth, she cannot risk her father or brother seeing it, so puts it in a hidden corner of the house to dry.
Using a cotton cloth during menstrual cycles is safe only when cleaned thoroughly and dried in the sunlight to kill the bacteria.
The use of makeshift sanitary napkins, combined with girls’ societally conditioned shame of their menstruation, can result in improper menstrual hygiene management and chronic infections.
Menstruating Isn’t Optional, So Why Should Menstrual Products Be?
During the first phase of the lockdown, when all services other than those deemed “essential services” came to a standstill, menstrual hygiene products did not come under essential services. Their manufacturing units were shut down. From NGOs to chemists, no one could acquire sanitary products.
It was only 10 days later – 10 eye-opening days of realising the minimal worth attached to your basic needs – that pads were included in essential services. The pads still have a full goods and services tax levied on them, despite continual calls for subsidies.
Menstrual hygiene continues to be a secondary concern. As the Chitrakoot district magistrate Shesh Mani Pandey said, “We are focusing on the basic needs right now, which are ration and food.”
Periods don’t stop during crises. Women cannot simply pause their menstrual cycle to be considerate of the other issues that need to be dealt with during a pandemic. Menstrual health and hygiene is a basic need.
What You Can Do This World Menstrual Hygiene Day
Menstruation is a normal biological process, but one that needs greater awareness due to its being entangled in shame and misinformation.
Any effort to make sanitary products accessible to girls, especially those in low-income communities, is helpful and much-needed (even when made by celebrities who waited for World Menstrual Hygiene Day to arrive to donate sanitary napkins to the underprivileged and announce it).
This World Menstrual Hygiene Day, do what you can as a cheerleader on the front of menstrual hygiene management and awareness.
This could be anything, from donating sanitary products to the needy, raising awareness and breaking myths about menstruation, to even just taking a moment to be kind and grateful to your body, in all its bloody glory.
You can donate sanitary pads to underprivileged girls on these links
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