Menstrual Health Day: Global period poverty and stigma getting worse under lockdown
Girls are struggling with product shortages and price hikes
The coronavirus crisis is leaving girls and women worldwide struggling to manage their periods, with many facing severe shortages of products, sharp rises in prices, and a lack of access to basic information and services, according to a survey of health professionals in 30 countries by global children’s charity, Plan International.
Released to coincide with World Menstrual Health Day, the survey draws on the testimony of professionals working in the field of menstrual hygiene management, water, sanitation and hygiene and sexual reproductive health rights. The 45 professionals who responded to the survey reported that women and girls are facing
- Restricted access to products through shortages or disrupted supply chains (reported by 73% of surveyed health professionals)
- Restricted access to facilities to change, clean and dispose of period products (68%)
- An increase in price of products (58%)
- Lack of access to information and services (54%)
- Reduced access to clean water to manage periods (51%)
- A less hygienic environment for disposal of products (47%)
- Increased stigma, shaming or harmful cultural practices (24%)
This follows a recent survey by Plan International UK focusing on UK girls’ experiences, showing how 3 in 10 UK girls have struggled to afford or access sanitary wear during lockdown, with over half (54%) of these girls having used toilet paper as an alternative.
Rose Caldwell, chief executive of Plan International UK said: “Periods don’t stop for a pandemic, and whether we’re talking about girls in the UK, Rwanda, Australia or Nepal, the coronavirus crisis is making it harder for girls and young women to manage their periods safely and with dignity.
“Many of the issues we're seeing existed before the pandemic, but the virus is making the situation worse. We already know that the coronavirus outbreak is having a devastating impact on family finances all over the world, but now we see that girls and women are also facing widespread shortages and price hikes on period products, with the result that many are being forced to make do with whatever they can find to manage their period. This can pose a real threat to their health and may increase the risk of infection.
“On top of this, our experts on the frontline tell us that the stigma and shame girls face around their periods is also on the rise. Lack of access to clean water, lack of toilets with doors, and difficulties disposing of used products are just some of the challenges they face when trying to manage their periods in a private, safe and dignified manner.
“Period stigma is both a cause and consequence of gender inequality and can have a serious impact on girls’ life chances. It’s therefore critical that governments and health agencies prioritise menstrual hygiene management in their response to the coronavirus crisis and treat sanitary products as essential items during the pandemic and beyond.”
As part of the research, health professionals and girls from around the world reported in their own words what they are seeing and experiencing in their respective countries:
“No toilets, no soap, no private areas for girls or even no pads at all, these are some of the challenges they face. Most of the time during menstruation, girls have to spend the whole day in the river or water taps washing just to ensure water to control their bleeding.” Water Sanitation & Hygiene (WASH) Program Officer. Solomon Islands.
“As most shops have run out, I sometimes have to substitute in different ways instead.” Teenage girl, Solomon Islands.
“Due to lack of sanitary pad supply, females are depending on using traditional cloth napkins. Many of them don’t know the proper way of cleaning it... There is ample scope for bacterial infection.” Technical specialist, Sexual and Reproductive Health and Rights (SRHR) Bangladesh.
“Prices went up as soon as there was a confirmed case of COVID19 in Fiji. Sometimes I have to forgo buying hygiene products as money will have to be used on food and bills.” Young woman, Fiji.
“Since the lockdowns were effected across the world, and specifically in Zimbabwe, most retail shops have taken advantage of the situation and hiked prices.”
Program Facilitator, Zimbabwe.
“I want to go to the doctors to discuss significant pain I’m having during my period. But I’m not sure if I’m allowed or if the doctor will think less of me for using their time rather than those with COVID-19.” Young woman, Australia.
“Sometimes [I feel shame]. Especially when I am not able to clean myself during water cuts. I feel embarrassed to walk around family.” Young woman, Solomon Islands.
“Those who rely on food banks have been hard hit due to others stockpiling [sanitary pads] from supermarkets thus leaving the most vulnerable and those in poverty to go without.” Head of Disaster Response Management, United Kingdom.
Plan International UK is raising money to protect some of the world’s most vulnerable children and their communities from the impacts of coronavirus. The organisation’s response, which covers at least 50 countries, is focused on assisting children, and particularly girls, who are disproportionately affected by the crisis. These efforts include distribution of menstrual hygiene kits to support girls and young women to manage their periods safely and with dignity.
Donate to Plan International UK’s Coronavirus Children’s Emergency Appeal and find out more about our response here.
Notes to Editors:
1. The survey covered health professionals in Australia, Bangladesh, Cambodia, Canada, China, Colombia, Denmark, Dominican Republic, El Salvador, Ghana, India, Indonesia, Kenya, Laos, Lebanon, Liberia, Mozambique, Myanmar, Nepal, Netherlands, Philippines, Rwanda, Solomon Islands, Sweden, Tanzania, Togo, Uganda, UK, Zambia and Zimbabwe.