Covid-19 Impact Series (II): Periods and Pandemics

 

COVID-19, which led to panic buying globally, left supermarkets devoid of products necessary for basic needs like eating, using the toilet, and sleeping. And for women, menstrual management, though often overlooked and stigmatized, is a basic need. In fact, half the globe’s population has this additional basic need-a need that silently continues during pandemic times. Millions of females struggle to manage their menstruation in a healthy and dignified way. Many lack access to basic menstrual hygiene products, water and toilets.

Period taboos do not stop

“I’m experiencing period pain, but have to take care of three patients who need my help.”

Women account for almost 70% of healthcare professionals, and are the main carers of children, elderly, and sick. Yet, their periods are forgotten, hidden, dismissed. Blogger Audrey Jiajia Li exposed the problem of female Chinese healthcare workers who, dressed in their protective gears, were unable to change their menstrual products or take a day off for the pain.

Women sustain the social and healthcare workforce, but their menstrual needs are unaccounted for in service planning and delivery. Menstrual hygiene products are not considered necessities by many in leadership positions -mostly men- which has a direct impact on women’s lives and on the pursuit of gender equity. Thus, the first step for good health and effective gender equality is acknowledging needs, issues and particularities of menstruation and ensuring those needs are met. There is no health without sexual and reproductive health, and there is no sexual and reproductive health without menstrual health.

 

 

Period poverty does not stop 

“If we need to wear masks, they should be given for free” 

These attention-grabbing words read on social media gor me thinking of the millions of women who cannot afford menstrual hygiene products.

Particularly among poor and marginalized communities, struggling to afford these products was already a reality for about 1 in 10 people. Post-COVID, this is becoming an increasing issue worldwide, with more people struggling financially from COVID-19 related layoffs. Unfortunately, the most affected women and girls will be the poorest: when faced with choosing between food and pads, food is the obvious winner. However, inaccessibility to menstrual hygiene products impact females’ health and everyday lives.

“If we need to wash our hands, we need access to clean water and toilets”

Although access to sanitary products is essential, other obstacles to safe menstrual management exist-access to clean water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH). Coronavirus demonstrates inequalities between people. Health authorities are clear- washing hands with soap for at least 20 seconds kills the virus. While this gesture seems simple, for the 3 billion people worldwide who do not readily have access to running water and who lack hand-washing facilities at home or in school, it may not be. Adequate WASH is not just essential to prevent Covid-19 infections. WASH also plays a large role in menstrual health and hygiene. Being unable to wash your sanitary materials or clean your hands may lead to vaginal infections. Being unable to change or dispose of sanitary materials from insufficient toilets at work or school may lead to women and girls choosing to stay home.

 

Period activists (and nonprofits) do not stop

COVID-19 and menstruation have more things in common than initially thought: they disproportionately affect the most vulnerable people and hinder women and girls reaching their full potential. COVID-19 has brought existing inequalities to light and the fight for gender equity through good menstrual health is a dimension that should not be forgotten. Many activists, non-governmental organizations and non-profits have been working hard for years to abolish period stigma, improve WASH and obtain affordable menstrual health products for all. COVID-19 and the measures to contain its spread have impacted their work, as they have impacted other aspects of our lives.  However, period activists, NGOs and nonprofits have not stopped. In fact, they are more active now than ever. They have shown an immense ability of adaptation, with DIY online workshops for reusable menstrual products, improved distribution of supplies for the most vulnerable communities, and ground-breaking awareness and advocacy campaigns.

If you want to know more about these inspiring individuals, join the Swedish Organization for Global Health on our webinar: “Periods in Pandemics: menstrual health activism during the COVID-19 crisis”. On Thursday the 28th, Menstrual Hygiene Day, we will be talking to menstrual health activists and nonprofit workers from Sweden, Uganda, Rwanda and Kenya about the challenges they face and, most importantly, how they are overcoming them.

BY: Nora Piay and Carolina Mikaelsdotter