There are multiple ways in which women and girls are disproportionately affected by pandemics: they are primary caregivers for their children, the elderly or infirm; they often have reduced access to maternal health services and sexual and reproductive health services during lockdowns; they also face increased exposure to gender-based violence and are most vulnerable to forced early marriages when household incomes are strained due to restrictions. Women also make up 70% of the health workforce, yet personal protective equipment is typically designed for men making it challenging for female staff to manage their periods with dignity.
Period poverty is a global issue affecting women, girls, and other people who menstruate who do not have access to safe, hygienic period products. For example, people living in low-income households, those who do not have access to household finances, and people who do not have the physical means to access period products. Period poverty can affect any person that menstruates. The harsh reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic has exacerbated the social determinants which underpin period poverty. Many people have lost their livelihoods as a result of this pandemic, and many more might follow. This influences household incomes, directly or indirectly impacting menstruators’ ability to afford or prioritize period products.
In Kenya, access to period products has always been an issue even before the COVID-19 pandemic. High cost of period products and lack of male support in matters related to menstruation had already created a big gap. This gap has been deepened by financial constraints brought by the pandemic. For example, schools were closed down, leaving girls unable to access menstrual necessities – in some schools, volunteers would thus take donations of period products. At home, in low-income families, the choice between buying a packet of flour for the whole family or a packet of sanitary pads for a girl has to be made and the flour always carries the day.
In Zambia, the challenge of period products is the same, affecting most of the adolescents and young female population. With half of the population being female and majority within the reproductive age, access to period/menstrual hygiene products is a challenge of concern. Girls between the age of 10 and 19, including young women within the rural and poor peri-urban areas are most affected. Girls and young women are using unimaginable products to deal with their periods due to poverty levels limiting access to the (required) products. The products/methods used often lead to reproductive tract infections. Covid-19 has exacerbated the situation by further limiting access to period products due to (pandemic related) economic challenges. Disparities in access to the period products have widened, affecting even more girls and young women in rural and poor peri-urban areas, including girls and young women with disabilities.
The Pandemic Periods Collective
The Pandemic Periods Collective is a global group of passionate anti-period poverty activists, media specialists, frontline health workers and researchers from India, Bangladesh, Mexico, Chile, Ireland, Zambia, Kenya, Nigeria, Scotland and England. We have come together to fight for the recognition and acknowledgement of those that are experiencing challenges in accessing period products during the COVID-19 pandemic. Our strength lies in our intersectionality, as our collective includes individuals from different cultural backgrounds, contexts, countries and creeds, all with the same mission, to fight period poverty through cross-sector collaboration, creative communications and action-orientated advocacy.
The Pandemic Periods Collective aims to highlight period poverty and how this has further worsened in the context of COVID-19. We want to further illuminate the challenges of women and girls in eight contexts (countries of different income levels, cultures, settings…) through their own experiences and then compare and contrast their experiences of period poverty during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Through our work, we aim to gain global recognition for those that continue to experience period poverty during COVID-19; encourage programs that offer better access to period products during pandemics including decentralized free period product provision and monitoring of supply chains to avoid stock-outs; support the continued provision of accessible and inclusive education on menstruation during a pandemic, so that those experiencing menarche, or those who have changes to their periods during the pandemic have the information they need to educate themselves; and illustrate that period products are a necessity for females, raise awareness that menstruation is part of the normal functioning of women’s bodies and call upon the entire community, men included, to support girls and women in accessing period products.
The Period Poverty movement has gained momentum over the past eight years, we cannot allow the changes to policy, programs and practice to be lost during this pandemic. Pandemic Periods will ensure that the challenges of menstruating people during COVID-19 are not invisible, and this all over the world.