240989 people have died so far globally due to Coronavirus outbreak while I write this article today. But, along with the spread of this disease, millions of women are falling prey to a rise in period poverty. A pressing issue that is being brushed under the carpet.
What is Period Poverty?
Globalcitizen.org defines period poverty as lack of sanitary products, menstrual hygiene, education, toilets, handwashing facilities or waste management. Such conditions force women to resort to unsafe alternatives like an old piece of cloth, paper, even napkins made out of grass that expose them to serious vaginal infections.
The inaccessibility of sanitary products is not only a problem of the third world. Countries like USA and UK have thousands of women who cannot afford to purchase sanitary napkins.
In the UK, a reported 137,700 girls have missed school due to period poverty. They risk falling 145 education days behind their male counterparts.
Sefelepelo Sebtata, a journalist who is fighting period poverty in Zimbabwe through her NGO Rise N Shine Trust highlights how the idea of wearing ‘sanitary pads’ seems unreal to most women in rural areas. “ The cost of a 10kg mielie mean is $70ZWL(1.30USD) whereas a packet of a sanitary pad is priced at $90ZWL (1.70USD) which forces most of the families to prioritize mealie meal over pads.”
How is COVID-19 effecting Period Poverty?
“Covid -19 measures in Zimbabwe came very fast and furious. With no time for women and girls to gather supplies of sanitary wear for those who can afford. Cooped up in our homesteads this monthly menace does not stop. For girls and women in rural areas who are faced with patriarchal systems it means girls and woman have to make an extra effort to hide their monthly patterns and lockdowns make this process that much harder because where does one dry their used towels that need washing. Everyone is under restrictions-some young people have resorted to using contraceptive to deal with periods which is dangerous for their future health,” describes sefelepelo.
She also talks about a common problem among African girls & women called ‘Jeko’ which is an acute period pain that lasts for days. Women are dependent on taking an over the counter medication that costs them atleast a dollar USD. Without the pain killer’s availability during extended lockdowns, they are forced to speak to their fathers & brothers about the cause of their discomfort which brings them embarrassment.
Not only in Zimbabwe, women in war zones & refugee camps are now in the midst of endless suffering due to the pandemic.
Dr.Zareen Roohi, CEO of Gift wellness foundation has been making consistent efforts to make sanitary pads available to homeless women all across UK, along with refugee camps of Syria, Jordan & Rohingya women in Bangladesh.
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Upon my interaction with her, she described the extent of vulnerability & extreme measures women are being forced to take to meet their sanitary wear needs during these unprecedented times.
Gift wellness foundation has distributed 5.2 million pads to women with it’s buy one gift one pad policy. However, due to the current lockdown on borders, the shipped consignment of sanitary napkins to women in these camps may take more than a month to reach or may not make it all!
But where is the problem lying?
Be it the Zataari Camp of Syrian refugees or school going girls in the UK. The question trickles down to – what is the source of the problem?
Continuing the fight!
While India is having a tough time protecting its huge population size from the pandemic. Jyoti Khare, the director of Ankur Yuva Chetna Shivir NGO has set a terrific example of farsightedness during COVID-19.
She recognized the danger of this disease during early January & started spreading awareness through handmade posters. Her area of operation was villages & slums situated in the outskirts of Lucknow, Uttar Pradesh. She conducted handwashing sessions teaching people the ’20 seconds rule’ & started distributing masks along with a kit containing soaps and sanitary napkins, 25 days earlier than the declared nationwide lockdown.
Her idea was to bridge the time gap the state government took to provide relief in terms of food and basic supplies. Her outreach has covered 151000 people and 10,000 families which has resulted in the state government declaring to distribute sanitary napkins to rural women from 1st of April onwards.
Jyoti has also driven change in her village of operation by conducting classes on period awareness that had boys & girls together in attendance. They were distributed pads & were encouraged to hand them over to their mothers & sisters back home comforting them about the idea of periods.
Similarly, Dr. Zareen Roohi continues provide relief to women in crisis by setting up ‘sanitary pads pick up points’ all across London & in different parts of UK in partnership with other charities like The Homeless Period & In Kind Direct.
It is not about bleeding anymore, it is about acceptance.”Women are often their own worst enemy as well, we have never properly asserted our own human rights in this regard. This lack of confidence in ourselves has inadvertently help to create a culture of keeping quiet about periods.” says Dr. Zareen.
Period Poverty is a pressing problem that cannot be ignored & the outbreak of coronavirus is leaving us with an important lesson to not keep quiet about periods anymore. With these women fighting for the dignity of thousands of women around the world, it is essential for each of us to speak up more, move systems, reclaim our rights, so that every woman in the world has a pack of sanitary pads available for her in times of future crisis.