Skip to main content

Gender disparity: Untold tale of menstrual health during Covid-19 pandemic

By Subhanshi Negi*
It is somewhat ironic that even when we are amidst a major national health crisis, one of the paramount health issues of ‘menstrual hygiene,’ which is recognized as global public health and human right by the United Nations, is being thrust aside by the Government of India. Many organizations have pointed out that India is suffering from ‘period poverty.’
The estimates leave everyone dumbstruck. National Family Health Survey 2015-16 reveals that only about 36% of women in India have access to sanitary napkins -- during their menstruation cycle. And the number happens to be more concentrated in urban areas. (no surprises there!). 23 million girls drop out of school annually due to a lack of proper menstrual hygiene.
The issue becomes all the more pressing considering the fact that India is one of the countries with the highest rates of cervical cancer, which majorly occur due to a lack of menstrual hygiene. Studies have claimed that every 8 minutes, an Indian woman dies due to it, making it the second most common cancer among Indian women.
These figures tend to deteriorate further with the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic if proper intervention is not taken soon enough. When the unprecedented lockdown was announced in the country for the first time on March 24, 2020, a list of essential items was released by the Government of India, which did not mention sanitary napkins explicitly.
It was only on March 29 when the chemists, grocery stores, and online sites reported that they were running out of sanitary products, that the Women and Child Development Ministry presented an updated list of essential items that included sanitary products. This delay in decision making caused significant disruptions in the demand and supply of the product in the market.
Anecdotal evidence suggests that when the lockdown was announced, the demand for sanitary products spiked quickly. Privileged people from the well to do sections of society hoarded, leaving the unprivileged with little or no options. In some areas, the price hike was reported due to demand spurt and finite supply.
A working paper by researchers from the University of Chicago and the University of British Columbia covered a sample of 1392 individuals in slums and unauthorized colonies of Delhi and found that weekly income of nine out of ten people had fallen to zero.
Given the circumstances, how does one expect a woman to buy sanitary napkin instead of food with almost no money? Such incidents further highlight the issue of the unaffordability of sanitary napkins in the country by the majority.
The production and distribution process of the supply chain was also greatly hampered at all stages. The hold up caused nearly ten days of the production loss. Even now, all factories have not been functioning to their full capacity. India’s borders closing for imports added another hindrance to the supply problem.
Another significant source of distribution that has come to a standstill is schools. With all schools shut for months, across the country, schoolgirls cannot avail the facility of free sanitary pads, worsening the scope of accessibility.
This catastrophe has been an eye-opener to all. It has pushed the deprived communities into acute distress, making their agony visible to all. But is this event gender neutral? Experts say that it has hugely widened the already existing gender disparity all over the globe. This is a more concerning issue in developing countries like India, where the majority of the poor and migrants happen to be female.
The plight of migrant workers leaving cities and heading back home to their villages, often under inhumane conditions, is quite revealing; however, it’s just a trailer of the ground-breaking reality. Most media coverage shows men in the limelight, leaving aside women workers pushing them to the background, much like always. 
None of the government interventions included sanitary napkins. Was the fact that periods don’t stop during national health crisis forgotten?
Migrant and poor women feature perhaps the lowest on the human ladder, and unfortunately, they are the most exposed and vulnerable at this moment. It has been more than two months of lockdown, and almost every woman would have experienced her menstrual cycle twice, at-least. Were they able to access sanitary pads during that time? Or even seek help from anyone?
Akshay Kumar
These few questions can be answered with almost certainty- the majority of them would have bled silently or at most used some cloth or rug. However, come to think about it, it may not seem so appalling, given that the topic has almost always been brushed under the carpet-being considered as a stigma and taboo.
This is compounded by the cultural and social influence of the society where it is considered ‘dirty’ and ‘impure.’ The majority of the discussion about menstrual hygiene is restricted to one’s bedroom that too among the educated and privileged ones.
Considering all the facts and figures, the question remains: What has the Government done to tackle this vital issue? It did take few crucial steps to ensure the well being of the masses like allocation of additional ration from the PDS to the poor at a low price, distribute the ‘essential kit’ mainly comprising of food grains, oil, soap, detergent, mask to the migrants and needy.
What is striking is that none of these interventions included sanitary napkins in them. Was the fact that periods don’t stop even during a national health crisis, forgotten? Or sanitary napkins are not considered an essential commodity yet in this country? It may not be necessary for survival, but it is a prerequisite for healthy living, which makes it an essential product.
Other than government, many stepped up to offer help, especially to the communities that have felt the most significant hit. But only a few of us realized that along with hunger-there is another battle to be fought. There was a silver lining when individuals like Vikas Khanna and Akshay Kumar with the help of NGOs (Samarpan, Giggles, Shy & Smile) and companies like Niine, Paree and Whisper took the initiative to help in the production and distribution process.
“It’s a small effort to ensure menstrual hygiene for women already burdened by economic and physical woes,” said Bibhu Prasad Sahu, director, Youth for Social Development. In a few states like Punjab and Haryana, even the police department reached out. 
It’s incredible to see so many working day and night to endeavor regular supply of sanitary pads to donate or distribute them at the lowest price possible. With the efforts of many individuals, millions of women have received sanitary napkins during this distress.
They say, ‘every small milestone is a victory,’ but are these efforts enough to make a breakthrough? Is the Government doing enough for all these women? I am not sure. When just a few people and organizations with limited resources and reach can help so many women, imagine what the Government can do with all the available resources, reach and power it has.
Will the Government help to put together the health system around menses that’s been wildly missing through centuries? Can we save all the progress we started making around this ‘unsaid’ topic though movies like “Padman” and campaign like #yesbleeed, in the past few years?
---
*Student at South Asian University, pursuing post-graduation in development economics

Comments

Unknown said…
Very well written!

TRENDING

Buddhist shrines were 'massively destroyed' by Brahmanical rulers: Historian DN Jha

Nalanda mahavihara By Our Representative Prominent historian DN Jha, an expert in India's ancient and medieval past, in his new book , "Against the Grain: Notes on Identity, Intolerance and History", in a sharp critique of "Hindutva ideologues", who look at the ancient period of Indian history as "a golden age marked by social harmony, devoid of any religious violence", has said, "Demolition and desecration of rival religious establishments, and the appropriation of their idols, was not uncommon in India before the advent of Islam".

World Bank proved right, Narmada is already a destructive project: Medha Patkar

By Rajiv Shah  Narmada Bachao Andolan leader Medha Patkar has said that the World Bank’s independent review mission, which brought out the Morse Commission report , has been proved right: The Sardar Sarovar dam has not only failed to live up to the loud promises made for irrigating large arid areas of Saurashtra and Kutch in Gujarat, those who were displaced and resettled in Gujarat are getting increasingly restive as many of them are unable to get the promised water for irrigation and some for drinking water too. While 50,000 families have been resettled in three states and 20,000 have received land rights as land or cash, the authorities have not calculated what should be done with 15,000 families, whose houses are acquired for Sardar Sarovar but following changing backwater levels of the Sardar Sarovar dam, they are denied rehabilitation, Patkar tells Counterview in an interview (part1*): *** Q: What is the latest position in your view as far as the Sardar Sarovar dam is concerned?

Upholding labour rights, Nehruvian scientific temper, Rajni Patel opposed Emergency

By Harsh Thakor*  Rajni Patel, who died 40 years ago, whatever his flaws, had one great quality: his human touch to offer selfless service and ability to galvanise or influence human beings from all walks of life. Few people would ever go out of the way to help someone or serve as selflessly without aim of personal gain. Rajni championed Nehruvian secular ideas and scientific temper. As a master in public relations he revealed utmost humility. As a barrister, he never appeared against the trade unions or workers. A Fabien Socialist he opposed liberal capitalism and radical socialism. Unlike most lawyers, he did not succumb to the lure of amassing wealth. Rajni was born in Sirsa, in Gujarat, on the very day Gandhi set foot on Indian soil, on 9th January, 1915. He gained his baptism through one of Gandhi's speeches calling for the boycott of foreign goods, which was the virtual turning point of his life. Rajni toed Gandhi to organise boycott of foreign goods. Rajni was able to cros

Vadodara violence: Fine Arts Faculty alumni raise fingers at Varsity's political appointee

Hasmukh Vaghela with PM Counterview Desk  In a statement, alumni of the Faculty of Fine Arts (FoFA), Maharaja Sayajirao University (MSU), Baroda, Gujarat, referring to the “violence” by right-wing groups for displaying “objectionable” paintings that “hurt religious sentiments” at the one of India’s top fine arts institute May 5, have taken strong exception to “the assault and rustication” of one of the students, and lack of action taken against those who “violated” the institution and committed the act. Floated as an online petition seeking wider support, the FoFA alumni, in their statement, addressed to the vice chancellor, MSU, said, there should be “thorough” investigation in the whole incident and “immediate action” should be taken against syndicate member Hasmukh Vaghela, MSU, who sparked the assault, and “other co-conspirators” for breaching “university code of conduct and unlawful activities committed in broad daylight”. While the alumni statement doesn't say so, Vaghela

Swami Vivekananda's views on caste and sexuality were 'painfully' regressive

By Bhaskar Sur* Swami Vivekananda now belongs more to the modern Hindu mythology than reality. It makes a daunting job to discover the real human being who knew unemployment, humiliation of losing a teaching job for 'incompetence', longed in vain for the bliss of a happy conjugal life only to suffer the consequent frustration.

UK leader cites Indian farmers' struggle one of top global fights against neoliberal order

Counterview Desk  Jeremy Corbyn, member of the UK Parliament, former leader of the UK Labour Party and founder of the  Peace and Justice Project , in his  inaugural speech to the  Progressive International’s  Summit at the End of the World on May 12, 2022, has said, what is happening across globe suggests that "image of apocalypse -- bombs and raids, oil spills and wildfires, disease and contagion -- is a reality for people across the planet." In an adaptation of his speech, distributed by  Globetrotter , Corbyn, however, said, there are fresh examples action, too -- by Indian farmers forcing Prime Minister Narendra Modi to withdraw three neo-liberal laws;  by workers, communities and activists against the top giant multinational Amazon's "greed and exploitation"; and by Latin American people's struggle to say "no more to the domination by imperialism, the destruction of their communities and the abuse of their environments." Stating that this is n

Welfare? Govt of India spends just 19% of manual scavengers' rehabilitation budget

By Bharat Dogra*  While the Dalit community has been always known for higher levels of poverty as well as social discrimination, even within the Dalits there is a sub-section known for even worse levels of poverty as well as social discrimination. This is the section which was traditionally involved in manual scavenging. The shocking injustice they have suffered from over the years has been widely recognized leading to a ban on manual scavenging. At the same time there is urgent need for the rehabilitation of those engaged in manual scavenging. Hence a self-employment scheme for the rehabilitation of those engaged in manual scavenging was drawn up. The allocations and the expenditure for this scheme for the last eight years are shown in the Table below: Union Budget for Self-Employment Scheme for Rehabilitation of  Manual Scavengers (in Rs crore) By Budget Estimate we mean the original allocation made when the budget is presented. It is clear from this table that the actual expenditure

This Maoist justified US, western Europe's anti-Soviet stance, even Bhindranwale

By Harsh Thakor*  A glaring example of the extent to which those seeking to identify themselves as revolutionaries can go in making odd compromises with those normally considered as “class enemies” in Marxist jargon is late Kondapalli Seetharamiah. Few know that this Maoist organiser two decades ago was so enamoured by the Chinese three worlds theory that he called for a united front with the United States and other western countries against what he considered Soviet social imperialism! This wasn’t the only “compromise” Seetharamiah made during his career as a revolutionary. On Punjab he took a most eclectical stand of supporting Jarnail Singh Bhindranwale, thus soft-pedalling the terrorist Khalistani movement. Among his other opportunist alliances, about which few are aware of, include support to the Akalis in Punjab, on one hand, and the NTR Telugu Desam regime in Andhra Pradesh, on the other – all part of his anti-Congress thrust. Also known as KS, this Maoist started his career as

Why is NIOH-ICMR 'official' making false claims on silicosis?: Health rights NGO

Counterview Desk In a letter to the Director General, Indian Council of Medical Research (ICMR), New Delhi, Dr Jagdish Parikh, trustee, health rights NGO People’s Training and Research Centre (PTRC), Vadodara, and Jagdish Patel, director, PTRC, have said that the claim being made for the use of biomarker for detection of silicosis raises concern about scientific tenacity of the diagnosis of the deadly occupational disease. The letter also objects to the reported claim by a top health official that it is possible to detect silicosis at the sub-radiological stage. It asks, “What is this subradiological stage of silicosis? We have not heard any such scientific term being used. Again, the report is using a term which is not found in any scientific literature so far. Is this term acceptable by ICMR? Is ICMR thinking of any explanation?” Text : This is with reference to our letter dated November 28, 2021. In our communication we had raised our concern about the scientific tena

Custodial death of Muslim youth: Govt of India told to ratify UN convention on torture

Counterview Desk  Kirity Roy, secretary, Banglar Manabadhikar Suraksha Mancha (MASUM), and national convenor, Programme Against Custodial Torture & Impunity (PACTI), Hooghly, West Bengal, in a representation to the chairman, National Human Rights Commission (NHRC), has drawn to the custodial death of a Muslim youth following his torture in police custody after registering a "false case" based on manufactured records. Seeking "proper investigation" the whole incident, Roy in his plea insists, the incident legitimizes his organisations' long-standing demand "for immediate ratification of the United Nations Convention against Torture and Other Cruel, Inhuman or Degrading Treatment and Punishment." Text : Here I want to draw your kind attention to one incident of custodial torture by the Deganga police personnel and the subsequent custodial death of one Muslim man from the Other Backward Class community in Dum Dum Central Correctional Home. The name o