Please note that I have said women, in many places, for the reader’s and writer’s convenience but I do recognise that it is not only women who have periods.
Sadness, a feeling which we all are acquainted to, however only a few of us have the liberty to feel. Just like how the poor in India cannot afford to grieve and complain in a literal sense, some of their basic needs are snatched away from them. They aren’t aware of safe menstruation because they haven’t been allowed to experience it.
Period poverty refers to a situation in which there is a severe lack of menstrual products and other basic toilet facilities, due to financial constraints. The many sad realities attached to some extreme statistics remain hidden away in their homes. When women are not provided with the necessary menstrual products, they resort to using unsafe methods like rags, cloth, dried leaves etc. These women are not allowed to feel comfortable, month after month dreading this time, where their means of livelihood or education would stop. It
truly is a privilege to not worry about such an essential part of your life.
Period poverty, which is a reality for 1.2 billion women across the globe, has been recognized as a human rights issue by the UN. In 2018, after the release of Padman, some of the stigma surrounding periods in India, had crumbled, but not significantly. This recognition was not in vain, but at the same time was not enough. So, if our systems failed to care for the needs of impoverished women in normal times, how much worse has it gotten in the pandemic situation? The reason this issue hasn’t been spoken of, given the recent times, is purely because of the stigma surrounding the topic.
How has the covid situation aggravated the problem of period poverty?
Migrant labourers are travelling long distances, with inadequate access to proper facilities for safe menstruation. Menstruating women are travelling the same distance as everyone else, on foot, in extreme adversity. They do not have menstrual products, neither do they have places to change their pads or tampons, if they even use them. The government provided assistance to workers, by providing them food and water, while forgetting that menstrual products are an essential item too. Moreover, due to the pandemic, many women are facing the problem of low wages and unemployment, further pushing them to use unsafe methods. The government should take longer strides in protecting impoverished women. Our country was quick to create awareness about how people prone to sickness are high risk individuals in the pandemic. However, by not providing hygienic facilities for menstruation, or menstrual products, women have become more susceptible to chronic diseases. In turn creating a situation where impoverished women can easily become high risk individuals.
Increasing the accessibility to mobile washrooms would be a small start to a big change. These washrooms do exist in cities but since they aren’t currently in use, they can be sent to places with high traffic of migrant labour. These washrooms also provide menstrual products at nominal rates.
Basic amenities like hygienic facilities for menstruation and water, shouldn’t be a rarity. So how can you help? Donations are an obvious start, donate to organisations that provide free menstrual products, campaign for accessible facilities for menstruation, and increase awareness. Other than this, you can also spread awareness to those near you, not waste menstrual products or water, and start a conversation to break the stigma.
Denial of basic facilities for safe menstruation should warrant for widespread outrage and immediate action. Periods don't stop for pandemics, and nothing should stop women.
Written by Triya Ghosh
Graphics by Anashwara Mandalay