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Menstrual hygiene in times of the pandemic

  • Published at 03:03 pm May 28th, 2020
Menstrual hygiene
Photo: menstrualhygieneday.org

The government, as it is putting all of its resources in the fight against coronavirus, has done little to provide essential menstrual hygiene products and services to women and adolescent girls across Bangladesh

With every day that passes amid the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic, it is becoming increasingly difficult for women in the country to ensure their menstrual health.

The government, as it is putting all of its resources in the fight against coronavirus, has done little to provide essential menstrual hygiene products and services to women and adolescent girls across Bangladesh.

Despite the widespread discussions and advancements made over the issue in the past decade, policymakers, due to the Covid-19 crisis, have been finding it difficult to address this existing health crisis that affects almost half the population.

All this ignorance and unwillingness has resulted in a great deal of suffering for girls and women, especially those who are poor and marginalized, as they are not getting proper sanitary products during their periods. 

19-year old Mukta (not her real name), a university student living in Dhaka, while talking with the correspondent, said her father, even on regular days, found it quite tough to arrange the necessary number of sanitary pads during her periods.

The situation has forced Mukta to opt for a “mixed approach” -- using proper sanitary pads when out for university and torn clothes when at home despite the latter being extremely unhygienic. 

But as the coronavirus has forced a shutdown, affecting her father’s earning, she is now only using old torn clothes as sanitary pads. 

“This pandemic has created another problem for me. My younger brother, who studies outside Dhaka, is currently at home due to the Covid-19 outbreak and I don’t feel comfortable drying and washing the clothes that I use for my periods in his presence.”

What do the numbers say?

According to Globalwaters.org, an organization that works to ensure access to sustainable water, sanitation and hygiene for all with the support of USAID Water Team, some 800 million women and girls menstruate everyday.

Unfortunately, there is no proper record of how many sanitary pads are used and how many women and girls have their period in a single day in Bangladesh. 

However, according to data published by World Factbook 2016, more than 50 million girls and women in Bangladesh menstruate every month. 

ACI Limited Business Director (Consumer Brands) Md Quamrul Hassan, at a program on World Menstrual Hygiene Day last year, said: “In Bangladesh, of the 47,199,313 girls and women who have their periods every month only 8,023,859 use proper sanitary napkins.”

“So, 83% females are being deprived of basic hygiene,” he added.

Moreover, according to the baseline National Hygiene Survey 2018 conducted by the government, young girls have their first period at the age of 11.8.

According to the survey, 79% of all women and girls in the country use old torn clothes by washing them with soap and clean water for repeated use during their periods.

On a promising note, Bangladesh managed to bring down the number of adolescent girls missing school due to menstruation from 40% in 2014 to 30% in 2018.

Experts’ opinion 

Rasheda Akter, general secretary of Jago Nari Sangstha, who is also a teacher in Comilla, said that the main activities in the high schools related to Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) was to create awareness among adolescent girls. 

“In our high schools we have SACMOs (Sub-Assistant Community Medical Officers) helping our young girls on the problem. 

“However, as educational institutions are now closed due to Covid-19, these girls don’t have access to a proper learning space where they can get all the necessary information regarding safe and healthy menstruation and this has left them in a vulnerable state,” she added.   

Agreeing with her, Mahbuba Haque Kumkum, program manager of Simavi’s Ritu project, said: “This is not a new crisis but the pandemic has made things worse for our women. Young girls and women living in rural and remote areas of the country have been the worst hit as they have a serious scarcity of sanitary napkins there.” 

“The pandemic has forced many of these people to go back to using old torn clothes instead of proper sanitary pads for their periods,” she said, adding, “this is giving rise to water hygiene issues as well.”

“People living in the disaster-prone areas of the country – sea shores and hill tracks – have always struggled for clean drinking water. As things have become more difficult for these people due to the pandemic, they can hardly use enough water, which they collect through so much hardship, for washing their makeshift pads. 

“This has opened the doors to other health concerns,” she added.   

Contacted by Dhaka Tribune, Rokeya Kabir, executive director and founder of Bangladesh Nari Progati Sangha (BNPS), said: “During a pandemic, pads and clean and safe clothes are as important as any other thing out there. 

“Due to social taboos our girls find it difficult to open up and act accordingly with regard to their menstruation issues and thus they suffer the most. 

“And most gynaecological problems are related to safe and hygienic menstrual management,” she added. 

“Besides, as the pandemic is causing significant mental and physical stress, many girls and women are having heavy menstrual bleeding and pain problems with other complications but are not being able to get necessary medical treatment and advice,” said Rokeya, who is also the chair of MHM Platform of Bangladesh. 

“Despite all-out efforts made by NGOs and women’s rights bodies of the country, the prevailing situation has made it clear that the government is ignoring a crucial issue like menstruation and has not taken any steps to comprehend the disaster it could bring about. 

“They need to understand that periods don’t wait for any disaster or pandemic and so this cannot be kept aside,” she added. 

“Of the country’s low income people, 46% are now in extreme poverty because of the pandemic. It has become impossible for these people to afford proper sanitary products. The government could therefore include sanitary pads in its aid packages as an essential item. 

“The Ministry of Local Government, Rural Development and Co-operatives is currently leading the initiative for ensuring menstrual health in the country. The Directorate General of Family Planning is also playing its role for the safe health of our girls and women,” she said. 

“But as this a health-related issue, the Health Ministry should take the lead in this battle,” Rokeya Kabir added.

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