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Periods During Pandemic: How COVID-19 Has Affected Womxn Disproportionately

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This post is a part of Periodपाठ, a campaign by Youth Ki Awaaz in collaboration with WSSCC to highlight the need for better menstrual hygiene management in India. Click here to find out more.

[Note: The term Womxn is used instead of women to foreground transgender, nonbinary and intersectionality]

The end to the Covid-19 pandemic is nowhere to be seen, at least here in India. It’s crowding our news headlines, social media, seeping into our conversations at home, running back in our minds. From unpaid bills to an unsure cloud on career, we’ve all been there. The pandemic takes a toll on our mental health, irrespective of gender. I spoke to my many counterparts about their experience of the lockdown, the socio-economic manifestations of the stress induced by the pandemic, and whether they felt the impact of this unprecedented crisis.

One of the shared experiences is worth telling: “Well! I can say it in either four words or a whole thesis there’s no in-between — anxiety, stress, horniness and revolution.”

A pandemic has social, economic and political consequences. While reports suggest that men are more likely to be affected and exposed to Covid-19, the social and economic consequences of the pandemic took a disproportionate toll on womxn.  True, but are those tolls disproportionate on everyone or do they push the already vulnerable to the borderline? I will leave the answer to you.

As one of my friends rightly pointed out, “This lockdown made me realise how truly overlapping our identities are. It made me aware that I do not exist out of my body, my gender role, and my chosen identity as a student. It pushed my boundaries to its very extreme, leaving me overwhelmed by the responsibilities that were waiting for me. Being a female student was trivialising enough, but being a female student at home has been a revelation.”

The pandemic, as has already been proven by numerous reports, will outdo a lot of work and progress towards gender equality. A recent UN Foundation blog post states how this shadow pandemic has witnessed a spike in a host of issues — domestic violence as girls and womxn are sheltering-in-place with their abusers, loss of employment for women who hold the majority of insecure, informal and lower-paying jobs, the risk shouldered by the world’s nurses, who are predominately womxn, and the rapid increase in unpaid work that womxn provide already.

Representational image.

Menstrual Issues Due To The Pandemic

There has been a drastic change in our lifestyle ever since the lockdown started. From dietary habits to sleeping patterns and adjusting to work-from-home, our clock has changed upside down. The consequences have taken a toll on our mental well-being. This toll manifests in several ways in womxn – such as changes in menstrual cycles or hormonal imbalance causing menstrual irregularities.

Lack of physical exercise, with a combination of stress, isolation from friends and family members, lifestyle changes, and disruption of routines are some of the consequences of unanticipated irregularities in menstrual cycles, and other period-related issues. Many womxn suffering from borderline Polycystic Ovarian Syndrome, or PCOS, have experienced an aggravation of pre-existing hormonal imbalances.

Dr Anubha Singh, gynaecologist and IVF expert at the Shantah Fertility Center in Delhi, told National Herald, “Many patients have informed us over the phone that their periods have become irregular and after talking to them it was found that they are feeling stressed. Stress problems in women have increased due to the epidemic.”

The abnormal cycles of ovulation are linked to the abnormal release of reproductive hormones necessary for ovulation, which is linked to the excessive release of cortisol (the stress hormone). It can cause alterations inflows, abnormality in duration and also lead to more painful cramps.

Stress manifests itself in various ways, from existential crisis to stagnant growth. One of my friends said, “Every day, I have to debate with myself whether my bachelor’s degree has any value, any redemptive qualities. All my life, I have been called very ambitious but in the lockdown, there are weeks when I just don’t get out of bed. Everything is stagnant. All sort of personal growth progress has come to a halt.”

Speaking of which, it is important to look at how the lockdown has severely impacted access to menstrual hygiene products for womxn in India.

Lack Of Access Of Menstrual Products During The Lockdown

Like many others, I’ve found it extremely challenging to access menstrual hygiene products regularly under the lockdown, searching every drug store and struggling to find adequate amounts, some time out of stock. Why? Because in the first week of the lockdown, sanitary napkins were not listed as an essential commodity, leading to the absence of raw materials, road transport restrictions, unavailability of migrant workers and closure of import channels.

A woman looking at sanitary pads
I belong to that tiny fraction of privileged community who had access to all menstrual hygiene products in a country where more than 60% of its 355 million menstruating people use old cloth pieces, rags, husk or ash to manage the flow.

But I belong to that tiny fraction of privileged community who had access to all menstrual hygiene products in a country where more than 60% of its 355 million menstruating people use old cloth pieces, rags, husk or ash to manage the flow. Local NGOs and organisations provided sanitary products to community outreach groups in remote and underprivileged sections of society. Menstrual hygiene, being a taboo in India with a culture of silence, has pushed around 62% womxn to restricted access or no access to menstrual hygiene products, a survey by Menstrual Health Alliance of India and WaterAid India found.

Thérèse Mahon, Regional South Asia Manager at WaterAid and Coordinator for Global Menstrual Health and Hygiene Collective, said in a report, “The closure of services at schools, health centres and communities that provide menstrual health products, information and help tackle menstrual stigma, risk halting or even reversing the enormous progress that has been made towards better menstrual health globally.”

All of my friends and I are part of the privileged community who can have these conversations and didn’t experience the horror that migrant workers, frontline workers and daily wage workers must have gone through. I had access to go to any shop and buy essentials for me. We are privileged in our struggles, and it is important to start conversations from the focal point where our solutions aren’t inclusive.

Womxn frontline workers have been at the forefront all throughout the pandemic, but periods don’t stop during pandemics. In our fight against the coronavirus, we need to ensure the crisis of gender inequality during this pandemic doesn’t escalate. It requires ensuring women’s equal representation in pandemic-related policies; and that women and girls at all levels get impacted by the grassroot policies for them.

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

Read more about his campaign.

Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

Read more about her campaign.

MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Read more about her campaign. 

A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

Find out more about the campaign here.

A native of Bhagalpur district – Bihar, Shalini Jha believes in equal rights for all genders and wants to work for a gender-equal and just society. In the past she’s had a year-long association as a community leader with Haiyya: Organise for Action’s Health Over Stigma campaign. She’s pursuing a Master’s in Literature with Ambedkar University, Delhi and as an MHM Fellow with YKA, recently launched ‘Project अल्हड़ (Alharh)’.

She says, “Bihar is ranked the lowest in India’s SDG Index 2019 for India. Hygienic and comfortable menstruation is a basic human right and sustainable development cannot be ensured if menstruators are deprived of their basic rights.” Project अल्हड़ (Alharh) aims to create a robust sensitised community in Bhagalpur to collectively spread awareness, break the taboo, debunk myths and initiate fearless conversations around menstruation. The campaign aims to reach at least 6000 adolescent girls from government and private schools in Baghalpur district in 2020.

Read more about the campaign here.

A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

The Transmen-ses campaign aims to tackle the issue of silence and disregard for trans men’s menstruation needs, by mobilising gender sensitive health professionals and gender neutral restrooms in Lucknow.

Read more about the campaign here.

A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

A Gender Rights Activist working with the tribal and marginalized communities in india, Srilekha is a PhD scholar working on understanding body and sexuality among tribal girls, to fill the gaps in research around indigenous women and their stories. Srilekha has worked extensively at the grassroots level with community based organisations, through several advocacy initiatives around Gender, Mental Health, Menstrual Hygiene and Sexual and Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) for the indigenous in Jharkhand, over the last 6 years.

Srilekha has also contributed to sustainable livelihood projects and legal aid programs for survivors of sex trafficking. She has been conducting research based programs on maternal health, mental health, gender based violence, sex and sexuality. Her interest lies in conducting workshops for young people on life skills, feminism, gender and sexuality, trauma, resilience and interpersonal relationships.

A Guwahati-based college student pursuing her Masters in Tata Institute of Social Sciences, Bidisha started the #BleedwithDignity campaign on the technology platform, demanding that the Government of Assam install
biodegradable sanitary pad vending machines in all government schools across the state. Her petition on has already gathered support from over 90000 people and continues to grow.

Bidisha was selected in’s flagship program ‘She Creates Change’ having run successful online advocacy
campaigns, which were widely recognised. Through the #BleedwithDignity campaign; she organised and celebrated World Menstrual Hygiene Day, 2019 in Guwahati, Assam by hosting a wall mural by collaborating with local organisations. The initiative was widely covered by national and local media, and the mural was later inaugurated by the event’s chief guest Commissioner of Guwahati Municipal Corporation (GMC) Debeswar Malakar, IAS.

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