Popularly dubbed as ‘Mother of Feminism’, American feminist journalist and social political activist Gloria Steinem once questioned if men could menstruate and wrote the most beautiful answer herself. It read, “What would happen, for instance, if suddenly, magically, men could menstruate and women could not? The answer is clear—menstruation would become an enviable, boast-worthy, masculine event.”
She had added, “Men would brag about how long and how much. Boys would mark the onset of menses, that longed-for proof of manhood, with religious ritual and stag parties. Congress would fund a National Institute of Dysmenorrhea to help stamp out monthly discomforts. Sanitary supplies would be federally funded and free. (Of course, some men would still pay for the prestige of commercial brands such as John Wayne Tampons, Muhammad Ali’s Rope-a-dope Pads, Joe Namath Jock Shields—“For Those Light Bachelor Days,” and Robert “Baretta” Blake Maxi-Pads.)” and we can’t agree more.
You see, periods don’t stop for pandemics and according to the World Bank, “Every day, some 800 million women and girls menstruate. Being able to manage their menstruation safely, hygienically and with confidence and dignity is critical not just for their health and education, but also for economic development and overall gender equality.”
Impact of Covid-19 on menstrual hygiene:
The coronavirus pandemic or these ongoing three years of Covid-19 highlights, or even exacerbates, persisting challenges related to menstruation when millions of women and girls were already struggling to meet their menstrual needs before the current crisis and with an internalised sense of shame that is often linked to this natural process.
Dr Tanveer Aujla, Senior Consultant – Obstetrics and Gynecologist at Motherhood Hospital in Noida reveals, “Every month 1.8 millions of women menstruate across the globe but it has been seen that many of them are unable to manage their periods in a dignified and healthy way because of the social stigma, harassment and social exclusion during menstruation.”
He adds, “Suddenly, they feel their mobility and personal choices have been restricted, thereby affecting their education and community life. The need of the hour is to build programmes that increase awareness, knowledge, and skills – and improve access to materials and facilities – for adolescent girls and women to manage their menstruation comfortably. The first step on this would be reinforcing society sensitisation and acceptance of periods as normal.”
Dr Ranjana Becon, Gynecologist at Columbia Asia Hospital in Ghaziabad, highlights that the world gender ratio was 101.69 males per 100 females in 2020, which implies that nearly half of the population undergoes menstruation. She shared, “Of this, there is a large number of people living under unhygienic menstrual conditions and are devoid of proper menstrual products. The situation has worsened during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
Alerting that the Covid-19 pandemic has had a devastating impact on women and girls, especially those living in poverty, Dr Ranjana elaborated, “The pandemic has put a lot of financial stress on people and has forced them to shift their priorities to needs such as food over purchasing proper menstrual hygiene materials. This makes them highly vulnerable to many fatal diseases, especially during Covid times.”
According to her, this aspect of menstrual hygiene has been compromised to a larger extent since the priority of the government and other health agencies have shifted on saving lives in general. “In such a condition, it becomes extremely important to not neglect this aspect to save lives of a large number of people who could otherwise face fatal consequences in absence of proper hygienic menstrual products in this deadly pandemic,” she adds.
Dr Ranjana offers, “This devastating pandemic is far from a large -scale inoculation drive. Therefore, we must understand the primary menstrual hygiene needs and study new ways of adapting during the pandemic.”
Steps to avoid infertility risk due to worsening menstrual hygiene during the Covid-19 pandemic:
For the uninitiated, a menstrual pattern could sometimes be a sign of infertility. Dr Aswati Nair, Fertility Consultant at Nova IVF Fertility in New Delhi suggests measures to prevent or avoid it by stating, “Since sometimes our menstrual pattern could be a sign of infertility, one should therefore pay extra attention to their menstrual pattern or cycle and menstrual hygiene. In our country, a variety of factors affect menstrual behaviours. Amongst these, most influential is economic status and residential status whether urban or rural.”
She recommends –
1. It is essential to design a mechanism to address and for the access of healthy menstrual knowledge.
2. Institutionalizing sexuality education in schools.
3. Developing and disseminating sensitive adolescent reproductive health messages targeted to both parents as well as their adolescent children is most important.
4. Access of adolescents to youth friendly services should be improved.
5. It is very important that young girls should be educated about the importance of maintaining hygiene during menstruation to prevent the risk of reproductive tract infections.
6. Taboos should be removed by healthy discussion.