The coronavirus pandemic has affected many people around the world. It has left extreme impacts on people's health, their finances, and their livelihoods. However, a secondary impact is affecting over half the world. About 1.8 billion girls, women, and gender non-binary people have periods. A lesser-known effect is declining affordability and access to menstrual hygiene products in communities already struggling.
Unfortunately, periods do not and will not stop for any catastrophic world event, including the coronavirus pandemic. About half the world experiences the menstrual cycle, and a staggering percentage of these individuals do not have the proper menstrual supplies or hygiene.
Many women and girls have irregular periods, and menstruation does not occur just once a month. Besides, women and girls who are victims of domestic violence, sex trafficking, exile, and homelessness experience choosing between feeding themselves or their health.
Water, sanitation, and hygiene (WASH) is a critical defense against the coronavirus pandemic. Deadly symptoms caused by the pandemic are of primary concern, but secondary problems in the world are taking effect. The most affected are the poorest and most vulnerable. The pandemic decreased mobility, freedom, safety, especially in the lives of those who menstruate.
According to Plan International, 75% of professionals working in hygiene and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights believe COVID-19 may impose increased health risks for people who menstruate since resources are being diverted to other needs.
Lock-downs, border closures, and supply disruptions limit access to menstrual hygiene products in countries already struggling with menstrual supplies. This can lead to unhygienic alternatives that can increase the risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections. Many females worldwide are experiencing a shortage in supplies, which has led to a surge in prices.
In addition to limited supplies, at least 500 million women and girls lack adequate facilities with clean water to wash and sanitize. Lack of privacy and dignity further exasperates the challenges that come with menstrual cycles.
Challenges Around the World
U-Report surveyed around 4,000 girls and women from 160 countries to discover how their period needs have been affected by the pandemic. 47% have found it harder to find menstrual materials, 51% have less money to buy them as prices continue to rise, and 6% have less privacy and access to safe toilets.
Girls and women in more vulnerable communities are facing challenges in accessing services, resources, and information. Disruption of safe water supplies and lack of sewerage system maintenance disrupt menstrual hygiene, while the scarcity of supplies increases costs. Many girls who relied on free sanitary pads distributed at school no longer have access due to COVID-19 shutdowns. These global lockdowns simultaneously lock down girls' and womens' autonomy, which leads to lower prioritization.
Those who quarantine due to being diagnosed or suspected with COVID-19 are isolated at home and lack access to water supply and general sanitation needed. Access to menstrual hygiene materials continues to be disrupted as resources are allocated to the overall community's prioritized needs.
Women and girls in poor communities use disposable menstrual hygiene products; however, they need to use their financial resources on food or essential utility bills with prices of products rising due to scarcity. These women and girls also do not have complete access to critical information related to menstruation or sexual reproductive health due to the diversion of funding from women's health to more pressing issues caused by the pandemic.
Characterizing women's healthcare services as non-essential or elective further negatively impacts women and girls of these communities.
How Can I Help?
People from marginalized communities are being impacted by the pandemic and cannot safely go through their menstrual cycles.
Governments and health agencies must support women and girls in their communities. Menstrual health and hygiene management play a vital role in many lives, and the resources and education cannot be mischaracterized.
I Support The Girls is an international network of affiliates that collects and distributes essential items, such as bras, underwear, and menstrual hygiene products. Since the beginning of the pandemic, they have collected and distributed over 2,000,000 products. Donations are being accepted here.
Sovena Ngeth is a Philadelphia-based writer who is passionate about using her words for change. She is also a content writer at the International Youth Organization for Peace and Sustainability.
Inputs and Edits by Aswin Raghav R.