- Menstrual Hygiene Day is observed every year on May 28
- COVID-19 has led to the crisis of inaccessibility to menstrual hygiene
- Women and girls with poor family background are suffering the most
New Delhi: According to experts, when it comes to menstrual health and hygiene, adolescents and young women living in slum areas, shelter homes, rural areas and economically poor households face multiple challenges. The National Family Health Survey, 2015-16 suggests that only 57.6 per cent women in India use sanitary napkins. Others use cloth and even leaves, ash or hay that lead to reproductive tract infections. The current COVID-19 crisis has presented even more difficulties for menstruating women in accessing menstrual hygiene products.
For women migrants, managing periods on the long road home without access to any type of amenity has been a difficulty. While talking about the challenges faced by migrant girls and women who are on currently on their way back to their villages, Maya Vishwakarma, founder of Sukarma Foundation, Bhopal- based NGO that works on raising awareness about menstruation and hygiene in tribal areas of Madhya Pradesh said,
Since the start of the lockdown, I and my team have been going to the highways in Bhopal every day to provide some support and relief to the migrant workers passing from there. Among the groups of migrants going back to their homes, there are mostly men and women are very less. While the women are already suffering due to the heat and anxiety of reaching home safely, their woes increase to a great extent as they are not to able go to the bathroom, or change sanitary pads for long hours as they are too hesitant to tell their fellow travellers to wait for them.
Pinki Kumari, a 23 year-old migrant woman from Jharkhand who has been travelling back to her home with her husband, two children and brother-in-law got her periods soon after they started from Delhi in a goods truck. She said,
When they stop the truck, only then I go to pee or change the cloth. I do not feel comfortable in telling them that I need to go to the bathroom. I wait for them to stop the truck and no matter how urgent, I control. It gets painful sometimes but it is too awkward for me to ask them to stop the truck because I have to pee.
Pinki further added that she and some other women in her truck go without drinking water for many hours to avoid urination.
Ms. Vishwakarma who has been providing food, water, soaps, ORS (Oral Rehydration Solution) slippers and sanitary napkins to the migrant workers asserted that lack of public toilets on highways is another challenge for girls and women on the road. She said,
They have no other option but to change sanitary pads behind bushes in a very unsanitary condition and no handwashing/ sanitisation facility and use dirty rags to wipe hands, which are health hazards.
Vikas Bagaria, Founder, Pee Safe, a manufacturer of daily hygiene products said that one of the main health related activities- distribution of sanitary pads to girls in government schools, has been halted due to the lockdown. He said,
I think the maximum impact of lockdown has been on the government school girls because schools – a critical part of the supply chain – are closed during the coronavirus lockdown. They were getting free pads every month from their school. But now since all schools are closed, they are facing inaccessibility of sanitary pads. The government is not providing sanitary pads along with foodgrains or under some other schemes. These girls are completely cut off from the supply for over two months. In Delhi alone, approximately 15,000 have directly impacted due to COVID-19 lockdown in terms of the menstrual hygiene management.
Mr. Bagaria further said that the small manufacturing units which were producing low-cost sanitary napkins have been shut due to lockdown and the workers have moved back to their homes. This has led to a shortage of low-cost sanitary napkins. He added,
During the initial days of the lockdown, sanitary napkin was not identified as an essential item. This led to a disruption in the supply of sanitary pads because the small manufactures had to stop the production. Though the government subsequently revised the order, adding these products to the “essential” list, supply continues to run low.
The founder of Pee Safe that has donated 200 menstrual cups for the poor and needy girls and women, said that the lockdown has also hit the work of many NGOs who distribute sanitary pads for free and have been playing important roles in raising awareness around menstrual hygiene management among people in slums and rural area.
For the past three years, Muskan, a 14-year-old girl from a slum near Lajpat Nagar in Delhi who goes t a state-run school, has been receiving a pack of sanitary napkins every month from her school. But with schools shut, the supply has pads too has stopped. Daughter of a mason and domestic help, Muskan shared with NDTV,
I don’t have pads at home. The last pack I got from school got over in March. Since then, I make pad at home with the help of my mother by wrapping some cotton from our pillows and mattress into a cotton cloth.
Dr. Surbhi Singh, Gynaecologist and Founder of ‘Sachhi Saheli’, a Delhi-based NGO that works towards raising awareness about menstruation also emphasised on the adverse impact of the lockdown on distribution of sanitary pads among girls and women. She said,
Awareness sessions, workshops and distribution of sanitary napkins in government-run schools had come to complete halt. Because of the lockdown, many people have lost their livelihood and now more than ever, lower middle class and economically poor families are reluctant to spend on sanitary pads. A lot of girls and young women are going back to their previous ways of handling periods.
According to Dr. Singh, ‘Sachi Saheli’ has distributed about 20,000 pads to women in a few slum areas in Delhi during the period of lockdown. On the occasion of World Menstrual Hygiene Day, on May 28, Dr. Singh said that it is extremely significant that sanitary pads make it to the list of essential items in every household.
About Menstrual Hygiene Day
Menstrual Hygiene Day (MH Day) is a global advocacy platform that brings together the voices and actions of non-profits, government agencies, individuals, the private sector and the media to promote good menstrual hygiene management (MHM) for all women and girls. It was initiated by a German non-profit organisation called WASH United in 2013. MH Day targets to break the silence, raise awareness and change negative social norms surrounding MHM around the world. With the campaign ‘Its Time For Action’ MH Day aims to promote that every woman and girl has the right to access to the menstrual products of her choice.