Periods don’t stop in Pandemics: menstrual health in the time of COVID-19

Posted on Thursday May 28, 2020

28, 5, 1.8 billion, 2.3 billion... Why are these numbers important today?

28th is today, Menstrual Hygiene Day. 28 is also the number of days for an average menstrual cycle. 5 is the fifth month of the year, May - and 5 is the average number of bleeding days each month. 1.8 billion – the estimated number of menstruating women, girls and gender non-binary people in the world and 2.3 billion – the number of people in the world who lack access to basic sanitation.

 

Even without a pandemic to contend with, managing one’s period is a heavy burden on many of the hundreds of millions of people who menstruate on any given day. And COVID-19 has made this burden far heavier.

A report, ‘Periods in a pandemic – menstrual hygiene management in the time of COVID-19’ released by our partners Plan International today has found that the challenges faced in menstrual health management has increased significantly during COVID-19.

The results of a survey of hundreds of women and girls and 60 professionals working in MHM and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH) has found that as a result of COVID-19, there has been an increase in price of sanitary products, restricted access to products, through shortages or disrupted supply chains and restricted access to facilities to help change, clean and dispose of sanitary products to name just a few.

“From to Kenya to Nepal, to Australia, Ireland and Cambodia, COVID-19 lockdowns are causing big problems for people who menstruate. Periods don’t stop during a pandemic, but managing them has become a whole lot harder,” Plan International Australia’s CEO Susanne Legena said on the release of the report.

 

Period Poverty: one of multiple burdens faced by women and marginalised groups

Those who lack access to basic sanitation facilities, typically lack access to sanitary products to manage their periods hygienically and safely. This everyday challenge is regularly compounded by the lack of privacy and dignity afforded to menstruating women, girls and gender non-binary people, due to the debilitating stigma and taboos associated with menstruation that exist in every culture. It should go without saying that these challenges of access and stigma are magnified for women and girls with a disability.

The lack of resourcing for safe and dignified menstrual hygiene management is known as ‘period poverty’. But ‘poverty’ also exists in the lack of reliable and accurate information made available to women, girls, gender non-binary people and the community at large. This has the effect of reinforcing stigma by failing to promote understanding of menstruation as a normal and natural function of the human body.

 

While periods don’t stop in a pandemic, there is an increased risk that the already limited resources to support menstrual health do stop.

  • Access to WASH facilities becomes more difficult for many, because of self-isolation and lockdown.
  • Access to affordable menstrual hygiene materials becomes more difficult, because of shortages due to stock-outs, panic buying, price surges, disruptions in the supply chain or increased family financial stress.
  • Taboo and stigma may increase because of disruption in the usual information and awareness channels (e.g. funding diverted from women’s health services, school closures).

Supported by the Australian Government, many of our Water for Women partners are actively working to make sure that access to these vital resources: WASH facilities, menstrual hygiene products and information, DO NOT STOP during a pandemic.

 

Periods don’t stop, so why should these?

Three strong examples of inclusive Covid-19 responses within the Fund come from our projects in South Asia. IRC in Pakistan has supported the setting up of hand washing facilities for the gender and religious minority communities with whom they are working. CFAR in India is supporting the distribution of hygiene and dignity kits that facilitate personal hygiene for vulnerable groups. SNV in Bhutan has been working with the Bhutanese Government and rights based organisations on a national menstrual health awareness campaign, with the result of menstrual hygiene products being classified as an “essential commodity”.

These examples are on top of the work already being undertaken by Fund partners who have been supporting the rights to safe and dignified menstrual health and hygiene management of women, girls and gender non-binary people in their WASH programs.

Whether it be about integrating menstrual health in the school curriculum (Plan in Papua New Guinea (PNG)), sensitizing school students on menstruation (Plan in Solomon Islands), engaging with Government staff on menstrual health advocacy in WASH (SNV in Bhutan and Nepal, IRC in Pakistan). Or undertaking research on the specific menstrual health needs of women and girls with a disability (World Vision in Vanuatu and Bangladesh), raising awareness in schools and communities on menstrual hygiene concerns (Habitat for Humanity in Fiji, Thrive Networks in Cambodia) and advocating to strengthen the case for accessible toilets with menstrual hygiene facilities (Wateraid in PNG and Timor-Leste)

Water for Women is working hard to end period poverty.

Period.

 

Photo credit: Plan International Solomon Islands

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