The COVID-19 pandemic has been posing increasing number of challenges to people across the world in coping with everyday lives in the most unusual ways never thought of before. Amid the numerous new issues and problems facing the world today and the battle against the novel Coronavirus, women in India are fighting to break the taboo of menstrual hygiene. And, amid the lockdown, accessing menstrual hygiene products is a struggle not only in rural, but also in urban areas, according to recent surveys.
Access to menstrual hygiene products a challenge
As many as 50 per cent of women and adolescent girls are struggling to get access to menstrual hygiene products during these current challenging times, according to a recent survey conducted on urban slum clusters in Delhi by Katha Slum Resurgence Initiative (SRI) team.
The Menstrual Health Alliance of India (MHAI) also confirmed in a survey released on May 21, 2020 that 62 per cent of respondents in communities claimed that access to menstrual hygiene products via regular channels had become challenging amid the lockdown and social distancing measures. It stated that owing to COVID-19 restrictions, 67 per cent of partner organisations have had to pause normal operations.
The MHAI survey pointed out that before COVID-19, 89 per cent of the organisations were reaching the community through community-based networks, 61 per cent were distributing menstrual products through schools, 28 per cent through door to door retail, 26 per cent through online retail channels and 22 per cent through retail stores.
“We learned that several adolescent girls were dependent on their schools for access to sanitary napkins but due to the current lockdown, they are reverting to the use of cloth pads. Additionally, the current cash crunch amongst families has pushed the need for menstrual hygiene products to the bottom of the list,” Katha SRI stated in the survey.
Globally, at least 500 million women and girls lack proper access to menstrual hygiene facilities. Several factors influence difficult experiences with menstruation, including inadequate facilities and materials, menstrual pain, fear of disclosure, and inadequate knowledge about the menstrual cycle (World Bank 2018).
Communities and combat initiatives amid lockdown
Distribution of Sanitary pads in communities: To deal with the current challenges, Katha’s team has undertaken the distribution of sanitary napkins in collaborations with prominent organizations such as The Paddling Foundation and SEWA Bharat, Katha stated.
The survey stated that these organizations provide sanitary napkins that are further distributed by community leaders who are trained by Katha’s team, within their communities.
Promoting hygienic behaviors among young girls through the power of stories: “Katha has always believed in promoting hygienic behaviours and a clean environment… to create a beautiful future for our children,” Katha said, adding that recently it brought out a ‘Supergirls’ series to create awareness and promote hygiene among young girls through the power of stories.
A new publication Supergirls Find A Solution published in Hindi, English and Telugu by Katha highlights menstrual health management and inspires children of all ages to consciously think about personal hygiene.
“Through the power of stories, we continue to reach young girls through online platforms during these challenging times,” Katha said, adding, “We are taking the power of stories to the communities and implementing StoryPedagogy in a different format. Through our experience we learnt that different groups of women have varied needs”.
In view of the hardships faced by young women and adolescent girls, especially among the poorer section of the society, following the Coronavirus lockdown restrictions on movement and closure of shops and markets or shortage of supply, there is an urgent need to ensure adequate supply and distribution of menstrual hygiene products to women and girls in communities across the country. Skilled workers in communities can be engaged to carry out the production work and generate employment to meet the needs of the hour.