Periods don’t stop during a pandemic, and for millions of women and girls the challenge to privately and safely manage menstruation was already an issue. On any single day during this health emergency, 800 million people are menstruating and many are now grappling with the unique challenges of doing so in a global pandemic.
On Menstrual Hygiene Day we have spoken to over 60 Plan International professionals working in the field of menstrual hygiene management and menstruators from Kenya to Nepal, to Ireland and Australia, to get an understanding of the impacts that COVID-19 and lockdown measures have had on managing periods.
The top issues when it comes to managing periods during COVID-19 lockdowns include:
As global supply chains are disrupted, deliveries of goods has slowed, particularly in remote areas. Shops and markets remain closed and restrictions on movement due to lockdowns have made sourcing goods more challenging.
This has the knock-on effect of period products becoming a scarce resource. People may avoid going to local markets or supermarkets to obtain essential supplies in fear of exposure to COVID-19 in public places.
Lack of access to safe period products during COVID-19 poses a real threat to the health and safety of people that menstruate.
Four in 10 menstruators we spoke to in Ireland reported that period products had become harder to get during the pandemic.
“Last month I had gone to get pads I like and they weren’t in two stores I tried. When I did find them I felt like I needed to stock up just in case.” Young woman, Ireland.
“As most shops have run out, I sometimes have to substitute in different ways instead.” Teenage girl, Solomon Islands.
743 million girls are currently out of school because of the school closures that are necessary to curb the spread of COVID-19. Not only is this a threat to girls’ education, but many girls rely on free sanitary pads distributed at their school and with the schools all shut to they no longer have access to them.
16-year-old Nisera (pictured above) from Kenya told us:
I used to get sanitary towels from my school in Kibera. Now that schools are closed, I have to use pieces of cloth, which is very uncomfortable.
I feel sad as I can’t do things normally, like household chores or sit down as I am afraid of soiling my clothes.
With lockdowns and families stocking up on food and supplies, I can tell you for a fact that the majority of families in my area will not consider sanitary towels. Those are normally considered a luxury. That’s why we are always glad to go to school as we can get them from school.
At least 500 million women and girls globally lack adequate facilities for managing their periods.
A lack of access to clean water to wash, toilets with doors for privacy and a lack of means to dispose of used products are some examples of the challenges that people face in managing their menstrual hygiene in a private, safe and dignified manner.
Two-thirds (68%) of our Menstrual Management experts report that access to facilities to help girls manage their periods has been disrupted.
Not only don’t I have access to sanitary pads, I also have to pay to access a bathroom
Jacinta, 15, (pictured below right) lives in one of the densely populated informal settlements in Kenya’s capital Nairobi. Most bathroom facilities in the area charge USD 15 cents to use the services, so for a girl to use it once a day, they will need to spend around 1 USD over the course of a week which is hard to find when you have limited means.
The choice between putting food on the table and accessing washing facilities and sanitary materials, means that often girls have to go without adequate sanitation facilities.
Jemimah, Jacinta’s mother (pictured above left) who runs a market stall selling vegetables tells us:
Times are hard for us as parents, COVID-19 has robbed us of the time and space to work. My small business was booming but now my income has fallen by 80%.
As a mother of three children I am finding it hard to support their needs. My two girls need sanitary towels every month, they need water to bathe and clothes to wear, there are so many competing priorities. This is entirely my responsibility because their father is also without a source of income. If something is not done, we will all perish.
Our report found that some countries are experiencing a rise in the price of period products, sometimes due to the limited supplies of products, but in some areas, prices have been opportunistically inflated.
In Lebanon we carried out interviews with over 1,100 adolescent girls and boys, caregivers and community leaders which revealed that 35% of adolescent girls do not have access to menstrual supplies, an overwhelming two-thirds were Syrian refugee girls.
Lebanon is experiencing a huge economic crisis. The prices of all goods including sanitary pads are increasing every week. Due to the lockdown, girls and women can’t access the shops nor do they have the financial means to buy sanitary pads. – Gender Based Violence and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights Program Manager, Lebanon.
With millions of students out of school, the immediate connections that adolescent girls have with their teachers, schools, friends, health workers and family networks are absent and can result in girls having limited information on their first period and menstrual hygiene management.
We know from our previous research that 1 in 2 young women in Ireland do not feel that school provides them with adequate information on menstrual management. We spoke to over 50 menstruators currently in lockdown in Ireland and 1 in 5 said they’d encountered issues with finding information or people to discuss their periods with during the pandemic.
“It’s difficult to know when to talk to a doctor (about long periods) especially since they are so busy.” Young woman, Ireland.
“Schools are the only formal venue for menstrual hygiene promotion, but schools are closed so no information about menstrual hygiene management is being distributed formally.” Program Manager, Indonesia
Global lockdowns also lock down girls’ autonomy, reinforcing the attitudes and practices that regard girls as second class and hold them back. Managing menstruation privately and addressing the taboo and stigma associated with it is critical to ensuring women and girls’ human rights, health and dignity.
Plan International are distributing menstrual hygiene kits to girls and young women that include sanitary pads and soap as part of our COVID-19 response.
We’re also calling on governments and health agencies to urgently assist girls, women and people who menstruate to manage their periods safely and with dignity.
Menstrual hygiene management must be built into COVID-19 health responses and whilst lockdowns continue, it should be built into remote learning curriculums.
Photo above: 21-year old Diana, a young mother in Kenya receives care packages which includes sanitary towels and diapers.