COVID-19 impact on menstrual hygiene: How cloth pads made a comeback during lockdown

By: |
May 28, 2020 5:41 PM

With Menstrual Hygiene Day being observed on May 28, 2020, it is essential to bring greater awareness about access to safe and hygienic menstrual hygiene products.

Menstrual hygiene day 2020, WaterAid survey, menstruation, health, women's health, menstrual hygiene products, sanitary napkins, coronavirus pandemic, covid-19 impact on menstrual hygiene,why menstrual hygiene is important, how do you maintain period hygiene, menstrual cup, menstrual hygiene tips, menstrual hygiene management in India, menstrual hygiene awareness campaign, menstrual hygiene education, waste disposal of sanitary pads,With Menstrual Hygiene Day being observed on May 28, 2020, it is essential to bring greater awareness about access to safe and hygienic menstrual hygiene products.

Menstrual Hygiene Management in India: “Periods don’t stop pandemic,” menstrual health and hygiene advocates say. For menstruating girls and women, a key concern at any point of time is linked to their anxiety over menstrual hygiene. With India following a stringent lockdown since March, a phenomenon of universal nature is how women managed menstrual hygiene amidst many challenges including supply hurdles and shared facilities, among others. In fact, Menstrual Hygiene Management, also referred to as MHM, is fast becoming an area of global study to understand how COVID-19 pandemic impacted women’s menstrual hygiene.

Why Menstrual Hygiene Day is important amidst COVID-19

With Menstrual Hygiene Day being observed on May 28, 2020, it is essential to bring greater awareness about access to safe and hygienic menstrual hygiene products.

Think about school going girls, women in quarantine, women in relief camps, women migrant workers, who are also in need of vital information related to menstrual hygiene and access to sanitation facilities. In many places, shared toilets made it challenging for menstruating girls and women to manage menstrual hygiene.

In mid-April 2020, the Menstrual Health Alliance India (MHAI), which is co-chaired by WaterAid India, conducted a rapid response survey in mid-April 2020. Those who took part in the survey included 45 organisations spanning NGOs and manufacturers that either manufacture or distribute sanitary products across India.

WaterAid has brought out a detailed Advocacy Brief sharing innovative alternate solutions to tackle menstrual hygiene at the ground level.

 

World Menstrual Hygiene Day: Key findings of the Menstrual Hygiene Awareness campaign survey
During the Coronavirus pandemic, there were increased challenges for girls and women in India to access period products. As it is, menstrual hygiene education is not a socially discussed focus area.

Notably, 82 percent of organizations noted that there was either no access or severely restricted access to sanitary pads due to non-operational production units.

Further, the survey found that around 58 per cent of the small and medium scale manufacturers were not able to operate whereas 37 per cent were not operational at all.

Another factor that the survey points to is that several organizations supporting production units had switched to producing face masks. Inevitably, this move impacted the production of sanitary napkins.

Key challenges related to menstrual hygiene

Some key challenges included in the Advocacy Brief include the following:
1. Continuing taboos and restrictions related to menstruation.
2. Limited access to sanitary pads.
3. Limited access to social support.
4. Restricted access to sanitation facilities.
5. Anxiety and stress over how to manage menstruation.
6. Disrupted manufacturing of menstrual hygiene products.
7. Broken supply chains for menstrual hygiene products.

Result? The survey found that most girls and women began to switch to cloth pads.

How do you maintain Period Hygiene? The Problem with Using Cloth Pads

How do you maintain period hygiene when you have no safe access to sanitary pads or sanitation facilities? A relevant area of concern.

A common problem linked to the use of cloth pads is that those who use it do not have adequate information on how to maintain the cloth they are using so that they are not infected later. In fact, using cloth pads without knowing how to maintain it poses danger to a woman’s health and they risk infections of a grave nature.

During the lockdown phase when supply chain hurdles seemed to loom large, WaterAid rolled out a noteworthy initiative with Madhya Pradesh’s Women and Child Development department. The initiative helped adolescent girls and women to manage their periods by using home made cotton cloth pads that were made of clean cotton. Through this, the gap in production and distribution of sanitary pads was addressed along with ensuring behavioral change with better menstrual hygiene practices.

Arundhati Muralidharan, Manager Policy, WASH, WaterAid India highlighted India’s significant strides to improve menstrual hygiene practices in recent years, However, she pointed out the impact of COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown was such that girls and women found themselves unable to use shared sanitation facilities during their periods. Also, it becomes a challenge to maintain menstrual hygiene when there is no access to water.

So, what is the way forward besides following basic menstrual hygiene tips?

How to improve menstrual hygiene amidst COVID-19?

The MHAI-WaterAid’s Advocacy Brief shares valuable information with useful recommendations such as:

1. Create more awareness through community programmes including radio.
2. Information on making home made cloth pads and its maintenance, use and maintenance of menstrual cups.
3. Menstrual hygiene products should be brought within the purview of ‘essential supplies’.
4. Ensure sanitation facilities are accessible even in relief camps, isolation and quarantine centres, community and public toilets.
5. Waste bins for disposing off menstrual products is a key component of safe and hygienic solutions.

While menstruation and menstrual hygiene still remain somewhat taboo topics, it is the need of the hour in rural and urban areas to make menstrual hygiene a key component of women’s healthcare and well-being.

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