In honor of Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28th, it is important to draw attention to issues surrounding menstrual health and COVID-19. Period poverty, defined as a lack of availability in safe and hygienic sanitary products and/or stigma and shame surrounding female menstruation, is an existing issue that has only been amplified by the coronavirus pandemic.
There are around 1.8 billion girls, women, and gender non-binary individuals in the world that menstruate, and a large number of those individuals are unable to healthily manage their monthly cycle. Even without the added factor of a global pandemic, period stigma caused by gender inequality, social norms, cultural prohibition, and lack of period products is a major issue. With coronavirus as an added factor, it is inevitable that the severity of this problem will be amplified.
Healthcare workers are especially affected by the lack of products made available during the pandemic. More than seventy percent of healthcare workers are women, and in order to combat the unending flood of incoming patients, they have been working extra hours at hospitals under extreme pressure. Constant changing of personal protective equipment (PPE) has prevented female workers from quickly changing their period products. This has forced women working in the hospital to “bleed into their protective suits, suppress menstruation through the use of oral contraceptive pills, or potentially miss days of work” (UNICEF Brief). According to Unicef’s most recent report on the impacts of COVID-19 on menstrual health and hygiene, there is a “lack of menstrual hygiene materials for healthcare workers provided by health systems” and a “lack of access to WASH facilities at health care facilities, preventing women from managing basic hygiene including menstrual hygiene while at work.” The report states that managers of hospital facilities are unaware of and disregard the menstrual needs of female healthcare workers. A survey conducted by the development and humanitarian organization Plan International found that 73% of health professionals reported that they had limited access to period supplies due to a lack of products from obstructed supply chains.
People outside of hospitals are affected by the lack of resources as well. While the “toilet paper madness” at the start of the coronavirus lockdown is familiar to most people, many do not realize that a similar scenario is seen with period products as well. As stores and manufacturers shut down, a sudden imbalance in the supply and demand for a depleting stockpile of menstrual health products has caused prices to escalate. Women all over the world are finding it particularly difficult to obtain products. There have been numerous accounts of a deliberate rise in prices from greedy manufacturers looking to increase their profit. In countries where period products have become virtually impossible to attain, women have been forced to go without or use dangerous, unsanitary methods to deal with their monthly cycle. These unhygienic alternatives can potentially lead to an increased risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections. While all these issues existed prior to the outbreak of COVID-19, the presence of a global pandemic has only heightened the gravity of period poverty.
In light of Menstrual Hygiene Day, it is important that we are aware of these issues regarding the negative impacts of COVID-19 on female menstrual health. We have all been made aware of the critical need for face masks, but most people forget that periods don’t miraculously stop during a pandemic. Therefore, it is important not to hoard menstruation supplies and buy a maximum of 2 months worth of products when needed. During these tough times, we, as women, need to unite and support menstruating individuals as best as we can to make more products available and remove stigma surrounding periods. Together, let’s end period poverty!