Periods are a normal biological process that do not stop for pandemics, cyclones or lockdowns. Rather lack of access to hygienic products for managing periods can become more challenging during the lockdown.
There are a few organisations who have been actively participating in ensuring standards of menstrual health and hygiene are maintained during the lockdown. For instance, UNICEF is collaborating with partners and state governments to focus attention on the importance of menstrual health and hygiene as part of the pandemic response. In Maharashtra, they supported the distribution of 200,000 sanitary pads in urban slums of Mumbai to adolescent girls and sex workers and reached 2.5 million people in urban slums with messages and support around safe sanitation practices and hygiene.
Under Rajasthan’s menstrual hygiene scheme, one million swachhagrahis, teachers and SHG members are being trained by the government on MHM messaging. Just as notably, the Jharkhand government has issued an advisory announcing a free sanitary pad distribution initiative for the next three months, effective immediately, for school-going adolescent girls between 10-19 years across the state
According to the National Family Health Survey 2015-16, only 48 per cent of rural women were using hygienic menstrual products, compared to 78 per cent in urban areas. Even with higher coverage in urban areas, it doesn’t tell the full story about deep gaps in access in slums and especially now with migrant populations on the move due to the pandemic.
Dr Yasmin Ali Haque, UNICEF India Representative said, “The culture of silence around menstruation has become even more evident in the COVID pandemic. Millions of women and girls from economically disadvantaged sections of the society are finding it difficult to manage their periods safely, hygienically and with dignity. Many are without work, stranded away from home with little access to menstrual hygiene products. Breaking the silence, raising awareness and changing negative social norms is more important now than ever before. UNICEF, with its partners is helping break this silence.”
This Menstrual Hygiene Day, UNICEF India also brought back the #RedDotChallenge to recognize the importance of menstrual health and hygiene issues and bring to attention the difficulties faced by adolescent girls, further exacerbated amidst the crisis. The week long campaign culminated on 28 May and reached 3.2 million people. The idea is to break the silence around the cultural stigma associated with menstruation. With many celebrities joining in, it is expected to break barriers with even more people.
Every month, millions of girls face a cycle of pain and shame when their periods arrive. They are often isolated, stigmatized, and are unable to manage their periods with dignity. The culture of silence surrounding menstruation within families prevents girls from getting information on how to manage their periods. Poor menstrual hygiene leaves them vulnerable to risks of contracting urinary tract infections, and anemia because of ill-advised dietary restrictions. The COVID-19 pandemic has further compounded these issues.