The 'Period' stressed by COVID-19

The Covid 19 pandemic has jeopardized and destroyed the world at large in almost every sector. India being one of the sufferers, has lost its charm and has headed towards stunting. There are a few sectors where India was already lacking behind which has become worse due to the pandemic. For instance, menstrual hygiene management was already an underrated and ignored issue in India.

The study by the Menstrual Health Alliance of India (MHAI) was released during an online workshop held by Dasra, a philanthropic organisation in partnership with MHAI shared its findings from a rapid survey conducted online amongst 67 organisations involved in relief work during COVID-19 across India, Africa and other nations. The survey assessed the status of production, distribution and access to menstrual hygiene products to understand challenges and propose recommendations for relief work.

The study based upon the findings of the survey stated that 62% respondents indicated that access to menstrual hygiene products through regular channels had become challenging, while 22 per cent said they did not have access at all.

Some key challenges included in the Advocacy Brief of MHIA’s report were the following:

1. Continuing taboos and restrictions related to menstruation.

2. Limited access to sanitary pads.

3. Limited access to social support.

4. Restricted access to sanitation facilities. 5. Anxiety and stress over how to manage menstruation. 6. Disrupted manufacturing of menstrual hygiene products. 7. Broken supply chains for menstrual hygiene products.

These issues are definitely not new, however the pandemic and lockdown managed to destroy the little improvement that India had seen in Menstrual Hygiene Management.

With schools and colleges shutting down and the world shifting to work from home, we Indians have failed to notice that the most accessible institutions for free and affordable pads has been deprived from our young females.

As the decision to allow production of essentials was made it was unclear to many how affordable pads would be made available to girls. This pandemic has further worsened the ‘PeriodPoverty’ not just in India but across the world. Periods don’t stop during the pandemic, and thus menstrual products are as essential to all women as food is to all humans.

While women across were suffering during the lockdown quietly, the women who became victims of COVID-19 directly, had even bigger problems to deal with.

A survey conducted by Menstrual Hygiene Alliance India (MHAI) in April 2020, realized that 82% of the organizations faced unavailability of sanitary napkins and other necessary equipment required.

If such organizations faced such shortages, the condition in hospitals and isolation camps cannot even be imagined. The women who were isolated or admitted, including the nurses working in hospitals couldn’t visit the pharmacy or ask anyone to bring them the sanitary napkins to prevent infection. The taboo forced these women to resort to the use of re-useable cloth. This re-useable cloth is more prone to spread infections and various other diseases and during this pandemic, the risk was tripled.

The growing urgent demand for masks, 58% of small and medium manufactures of sanitary napkins and other alternatives were not able to operate or were on the verge of shutting down due to lack of funds and raw materials. 37% of the rest manufacturers stopped operating completely. Most of the sanitary napkin manufacturers had started manufacturing masks, considering at its urgent requirement, and the production of sanitary napkins and its alternatives depleted, resulting in severe shortage and nearly no access to these products in pharmacies at affordable prices.

The few women who did have access to sanitary napkins timely, also suffered unknowingly. The sanitary napkins that were disposed were either lying in the dustbins for many days without due to lack of collection services or not handled properly by waste pickers with the fear of getting infected. These sanitary napkins were ignored and burned in wrong piles of waste resulting in soil and air pollution or spreading more infection which became a much bigger issue.

After the end of first lockdown, businesses started re-functioning, the other important sectors like pharmaceutical industry, food industry etc. were paid more attention to regain the lost business and uplift the falling economy. And hence, menstrual hygiene management and its practices were ignored again. Now with changing times, these sanitary napkin manufacturing companies and other organizations which work on menstrual hygiene management have started to operate again.

It time we recognize these organizations be it, NGOs, small Self-Help groups, Small and Medium enterprises producing sanitary napkins and support them in our little way by contributions or distribution. Many distributions drives were successfully carried out by many individual groups and NGOs that saw immense support from citizens. However, it is important not to neglect a problem as grave as Menstrual Hygiene Management, irrespective of the circumstances.

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