Coronavirus lockdown | Women’s access to menstrual hygiene products hit, says survey

A volunteer distributes sanitary napkins to migrant workers in Odisha’s Ganjam district. Photo: Special Arrangement  

The ongoing lockdown to contain the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic is severely challenging women’s and girls’ access to menstrual hygiene products and toilets for managing menstruation, especially given the presence of male and older family and community members, the Menstrual Health Alliance India (MHAI) observed in a recent survey.

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The survey found that post COVID-19, and given the physical distancing measures in place, 67% of partner organisations have had to pause normal operations, while before COVID-19, 89% of the organisations were reaching the community through community-based networks, 61% were distributing menstrual products through schools, 28% through door to door retail, 26% through online retail channels and 22% through traditional retail stores.

The alliance, which is a network of NGOs, researchers, manufacturers and practitioners working on menstrual health and hygiene in India and surveyed organisations in the network, found: “62% respondents stated that in the communities they work with, access from regular channels for consumers has become challenging and 22% organisations report that there is no access to menstrual products”.

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With production becoming constrained, availability of menstrual hygiene products including disposable and reusable sanitary pads at the last mile rural retail points was most affected. Consumers who could access the products at block or district level markets were unable to do so due to lack of public transport and mobility restrictions under the lockdown.

“Various State and district governments have school-based distribution of sanitary pads. With schools closing down, many such girls and their female family members had no access to sanitary pads. This has forced many girls and women to shift from disposable sanitary pads to cloth pads. Cloth pads can be a hygienic means of managing menstruation, if accompanied with information and facilities for hygienic management,” the MHAI noted.

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Observing that “periods don’t stop for pandemics,” the MHAI said the lockdown had adversely impacted access to menstrual hygiene information and products, and affected the ability to maintain hygiene during periods in privacy and with dignity for millions of girls and women.

A total of 67 organisations, including 45 from India, 16 from the African region and 6 from other countries were surveyed. 94% respondents were either in lockdown or State mandated social distancing at the time of the survey (April).

Most organisations reported continuing communication with community members — 63% by phone, 55% over WhatsApp groups, 29% through community volunteers and 22% through health workers.

Accessing toilets for managing menstruation was a challenge, with the problem especially more acute in urban slums where community sanitation facilities are used.

“Availability of water is also constrained and use for menstrual hygiene is not prioritised,” MHAI observed, adding that due to the lack of clean, private and safe water and sanitation facilities, women were unable to practice personal hygiene like changing the menstrual product (disposable or reusable pad) every 4-6 hours and washing cloth pads and drying them in the open sunlight for proper disinfection. “Girls also end up limiting food and water intake to minimize use of the toilet, which can lead to adverse health outcomes,” it noted.

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Printable version | Jun 25, 2021 7:58:05 PM |

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