In the middle of the lockdown, a friend of mine needed tampons and didn’t know where to get them. She had checked all the stores near her and had to ask Twitter if anyone knew of a store within their vicinity that had them.
This made me wonder, if an urban resident, with money and sufficient access, was looking for where to get tampons, what about the women and girls in rural communities who on a normal non-pandemic day, had to search and scrape up money for feminine products.
When the lockdown was passed, a lot of people opted for bulk buying. Women who menstruated bought sanitary pads in bulk, myself included. But this is tied to the availability of funds, how many girls and women can afford to stock up during this pandemic especially as prices go up.
Periods do not stop for a pandemic, with over 800 million women and girls having their flow monthly, only a few of this population do not struggle to have access to sanitary products, pain medication, clean water, and hygienic conditions needed to have to go through their periods in a dignified and comfortable way.
We cannot expect people to wash their hands constantly with clean water when there isn’t enough water to ensure menstrual and feminine hygiene. In 2018, The Guardian published a piece that showed that having periods in Nigeria is still expensive. Menstrual Health Management is difficult for women and girls who are unable to change their pads regularly and in privacy, have access to clean water, hygienic environment, and decent toilets.
Female patients and non-binary individuals in hospitals who are quarantined and receiving treatments do not have easy access to sanitary products and should be considered. 70% of health workers and care providers are women who are expected to respond effectively to the demanding needs of the pandemic and work for long hours. For them, the question goes beyond having access to menstrual and sanitary products but the time needed to cater to their menstrual health and safety without the risk of exposure or stain on their personal protective equipment (PPE)
Extreme poverty, menstrual stigma, and taboos, the increase in the price of menstrual products, limited access, as well as the high cost of mobility due to the pandemic, expose people who menstruate such as vulnerable women, prison inmates, persons with disabilities, shelter residents and displacement camps, makeshift communities and more, to harmful and unhygienic menstrual practices.
May 28, was menstrual hygiene day and yet, due to the pandemic, menstrual unhygienic methods are on the rise with worse consequences. We need to do what we can to ensure that women, girls, non-binary individuals who menstruate go through their flow in safe conditions.
We can start at an organisational level. Facilities managers in factories, prisons, hospitals, should ensure the menstrual hygiene of (health) workers and patients by providing essential supplies and materials like, pads with high absorbency that are safe and can be changed less frequently. Period leave or reduced work hours should also be considered.
Hoarding of pads should be discouraged and replaced with pragmatic buying of at least, 2 months supply of sanitary towels so others can have access too.
To further mitigate the impact of the pandemic on menstrual health and hygiene, communities can ensure the provision and cleanliness of WASH facilities that are designed to be female-friendly and inclusive. Menstrual health products especially reusable pads and proper education on how to use them should be included in the distribution of relief materials. It is also important that we as private individuals reach out and donate to organizations that are working hard to ensure menstrual safety within and beyond our localities.
Do not forget that you can gift someone who needs a sanitary pad or donate to organizations that are working hard to ensure menstrual safety.