In a developing nation, a pandemic gives rise to many other problems which might not be so serious in nature but cause a great deal of inconvenience regardless.
One of them being shortage of menstrual products.
According to a report by BBC, only 35% of menstruating women in India have access to sanitary napkins. 35% of roughly 355 million.
Which is a bleak statistic to begin with.
Now add to this the disruption in the supply chain because of the pandemic, and you have an unfortunate scenario where the percentage falls further and women – mainly school-going girls – have to go back to using cloth.
This is because they were provided with sanitary napkins by their school via many government schemes launched in recent years.
However, with the institutions shut, that ‘privilege’ has been taken away from them.
Now, to give you an idea of the situation, many of these girls belong to families where affording one meal a day is a task that keeps everyone awake in the night.
So to even mention that they need a packet of pads – priced at ₹30 – must seem insensitive.
It’s a thought one dismisses as soon as it enters the mind.
They are paying a huge price for it, though. In many cases, giving up the chance of getting an education.
Here is a report to support that claim.
In an article published by NDTV in 2019, it was said that a staggering 23 million women drop out of school when their periods start.
Contributing factors being, lack of awareness and resources. The same article said that 70% of women with menstruating daughters thought periods to be ‘dirty’.
Now if you look at these numbers with the backdrop of the pandemic, it doesn’t take much analysis to figure that things are only going to get worse.
There is some help, yes, but with population as vast as ours, the efforts need to be stepped up.
Among those doing good work are Ini Oru Vidhi Seivom Trust which distributed 200 pads during one of its relief efforts, Womenite which gave 150 packs in Delhi and Goonj which has made more than 24,900 pads according to a report.
Apart from this, brand Paree has been working for the cause, distributing 80,000 packets. Meanwhile, BJP has also promised to give out 600,000 packs in Delhi slums.
Providing sanitary napkins during Lockdown has been major challenge in many communities. We need to localise supply chains for sanitary napkins. Orgs like @goonj are doing amazing job at this. #SRHRDuringcovid https://t.co/CYXEsoAD7t— Akshay Tarfe (@akshaytarfe) April 11, 2020
But this might not be enough.
Remember we have a menstruating population of over 355 million and depending on the cycle, each girl needs at least 15 pads in one month.
That’s 2 packets per woman.
If you do the math, it comes around to 710,000,000 packets.
Even if we assume that many can already afford them, the demand is still pretty high and supply, not enough.
In this regard, the government faced backlash after the factories manufacturing sanitary napkins were shut after the announcement of the first lockdown.
Very soon, the packets started getting out of stock and directions were reversed. That did say something about misplaced priorities, though.
As I write this article, many restriction have been lifted but the production of sanitary napkins is still not at the same level as it used to be, considering many of the workers have gone back to their respective cities and villages.
Which means millions of girls will have to wait it out and hope for things to get better; even as the word ‘hope’ seems to have lost its meaning.
Periods are still considered to be a taboo in many parts of the country and to be menstruating without pads, among people who think of it as something ‘impure’, is a struggle we must lend our voices to.