The impact of the pestilence -like all other cataclysms- has been gendered. Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) has been one of the victims of the coronavirus pandemic, with scores of women suffering from shortages of menial menstruation products and improper sanitation facilities.
The Essential Items List which was released by the Government of India on the eve of the imposition of the lockdown on March 24, 2020 was bereft of sanitary pads and related commodities -conveying, writ large, the belated thinking the society has normalised towards MHM. After six days, a significant lag in production and a nation’s furore, the item was added to the list. About two months later, on May 28, as the World Menstrual Hygiene Day was celebrated, India’s women were in all juxtaposition laid bare finding it ardorous to follow safe and sustainable MHM practices.
The life of the average citizen has been beleaguered- the covid-19 brunt suffered by economic workhorses has dawned an era of layoffs, reduced wages, depleted savings and deep shocks to the government coffers and the pockets of the underprivileged alike. The informal and daily wage workers, living on the fringes of a now-reduced purchasing power, now find it strenuous to prioritise menstrual hygiene products in their grocery lists. Some regions have even seen the skyrocketing of menstrual products’ prices. Production of pads by Self-help Groups, federations and small scale entities has been ruptured due to constrained capital and workforce shortages. As schools and anganwadis have shuttered to a close, young women who used to receive a monthly stock of menstrual pads from these areas find it increasingly difficult to scout alternatives.
The hinterlands of the nations are characterized by parochial, tinted comprehension of the menstrual cycle. Even as social distancing makes it difficult to use community washrooms in slums, the problem is convoluted due to complexities in the rural culture. To be sure, some areas are worsley impacted than others. In shelters and relief camps, menstrual hygiene commodities are dismissed to favour the more basic amenities of food and water. In isolation and quarantine facilities where testing kits and Protective Personal Equipment carry a heavier status than anything else -pads are not necessarily an essential time. Migrant women suffer hardships and stigma from their male counterparts and have resorted to lesser stops to washrooms and reduced expenditure on sanitary pads in long journeys across the nation’s heartland.
“Availability of water is also constrained and use for menstrual hygiene is not prioritised,” the Menstrual Health Alliance India (MHAI) observed, conveying that the paucity of clean, safe and private water and other sanitation facilities has prevented women in safely washing reusable cloth pads. This has led to girls limiting food and water intake to minimize the use of the toilet in some areas. Even under the foreboding risk of reproductive tract infections (RTIs), women have turned to old rags or cloths and overused products. Amidst the virus crisis dwells an older, hereditary crisis of disinformation and ignorance- patriarchal taboos and oft-ignored alternatives to normal MHM products like compostable and traditional disposable pads, reusable cloth pads, tampons and menstrual cups have virtually cut women off from safe MHM practices.
“Periods don't stop for pandemics”, remarked the MHAI recently, thrusting into raw imagination a self-evident credo which, under the weight of befuddled policies and anachronisms of India’s naysayers, has been consigned to oblivion. In this anomalous era of paying desultory focus towards the most pressing of issues, everyone must join hands to solve this social quandary.
Jasjeev Singh Sahni