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The exacerbated issue of poor menstruation hygiene during Lockdown

Adithi Mohan

21st September 2020

Sanitary pads distributed to female workers (Source: The Hindu)

The presence of a global pandemic has caused turmoil and chaos across the globe. Among the numerous problems faced by the people of the nation the issue of the lack of clean and hygienic menstruation environments for many women and girls across the country is a major one.

After the lockdown was announced on March 24, sanitary products such as pads were not included in the ‘essential’ list of items, which worsened the situation for many women in the country. The announcement by the Home Secretary of India, Ajay Bhalla, that sanitary products will be included as an essential product was only made on the 5th day of the lockdown. This in turn resulted in a delay in production due to the lack of supply, labour, and resources required in factories. The distribution chain was also severely damaged due to the movement and travel restrictions. The impact created difficulty of access for many sanitary pad users.

A major crisis of sanitary napkins accessibility has taken place due to the lockdown restrictions. As per an NDTV report, out of the total 33.6 crore menstruating women and girls in the country, only 36 per cent use sanitary pads. Many women, especially in the rural part of the country, do not have access to products such as tampons, menstrual cups or sanitary napkins. The rise of the pandemic made the period of menstrual cycle for these women unhygienic and unsafe due to numerous reasons. 

According to a report published by BBC News, around 230 lakh girls drop out of school every year across the country due to the onset of period cycles. A large population of rural girls and their families depend on schools for the free monthly supply of pads, which halted during ‘the lockdown phase’ as schools were shut. 

Most of the women who live in remote areas travel a long distance to purchase period products. The situation for them has worsened due to the various travel restrictions, as they lack an alternate source for purchasing these products now.

According to a report published by The Hindu, the pandemic has cost 12.2 crore people their jobs in the month of April, 75 per cent of the total being daily wage labourers and small traders. For the many families that depend on this daily wage, the cost of commercial sanitary napkins which range between Rs5-Rs10 for a single pad is not affordable.

There is a general lack of clean facilities, access to proper disposal systems, sanitised toilets, and clean water. With the outset of the pandemic, these issues have worsened. Without the regularity of sanitation workers, the cleanliness of community toilets has taken a toll. Lack of clean water accessibility has hampered hygienic menstruation, due to which, women change the product as rarely as possible.

Sanitary pads are not included as essential items for women in isolation and quarantine facilities, as per a report in The Wire. For female migrants, managing their periods while continuously travelling and with limited access to basic amenities is unsafe and poses a risk to their health.

All the above-mentioned problems are the root causes that have exacerbated the issue of menstruation hygiene during lockdown. Women and girls have had to switch to unhygienic and unsafe substitutes to sanitary pads, such as hay bundles. Cloth pads, which are the main substitute, need to be washed and dried on a regular basis. With minimal access to clean water this becomes a barrier for clean periods. This can lead to health conditions such as toxic shock syndrome and urinary tract infection.

Few measures have been taken to ameliorate this issue. Until positive and concrete steps are taken, the health issues caused by this lack of access and hygiene will persist for many generations to come. 

Sources: The Wire, The Hindu, BBC News, NDTV

Edited by Varun Paleli Vasudevan

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