The global healthcare crisis has brought the world to a near standstill. The pandemic has taken over our life. Nowadays our routine consists of waking up, eating, working from home, going off to sleep, and repeating the cycle. But do you know what the pandemic has no control over? Menstruation. That’s right, menstruation will never hit the pause button, come what may. But menstruation is still associated with stigma, even though it affects a fourth of the global population. This would make it as much a reality for cisgender women as for transgender men, non binary and gender queer people. But even though it is the reality, it is different for everyone since no two people or periods are the same.
To give credit where credit’s due, in the recent few years, there has been noteworthy progress in creating awareness for issues surrounding menstruation across the world. The 2018 Bollywood film Pad Man which told the real-life story of Arunachalam Muruganantham, created a much needed social conversation that aimed to shatter the illusion that menstruation is a taboo topic. Arunachalam inspired the social media trend #PadManchallenge which he started by tagging the movie’s star Akshay Kumar. He had to hold a pad, click a picture and in turn, tag others to take up the challenge. In a country like India, where pads are still seen as an embarrassing product, this was monumental. The following year, in 2019, the documentary short film directed by Rayka Zehtabchi, Period. End of Sentence, about a group of women in rural India fighting against the stigma surrounding menstruation with such tender hope and optimism, won the Oscar for the best documentary film.
Last year, the UK government announced that sanitary products would be made available free of cost at all secondary schools. England’s Department of Education added menstrual health education for girls and boys in primary schools in the guidelines for sex and health education. India and Canada abolished the tax on menstrual products, while the Scottish Parliament passed legislation that would make tampons and pads free for all.
But with the focus shifting to the pandemic, the silence and ignorance surrounding the topic of menstruation has seemed to resurface. On the one hand, social distancing means maintaining a distance between people and on the other, it has managed to further the distance between people and the topic of menstruation.
Tampons and Pads: Necessity or Luxury
During trying times like these, it is easy for people to give precedence to medicines, food, and other essentials. But the question is – when exactly will sanitary products become one of the essentials? When can people buy them without feeling a sense of shame and discomfort?
To be honest, even I had forgotten to buy sanitary pads, but I still had a packet left. I was one of the lucky ones, but what about the others who forgot to buy them or did not have proper access to safe and affordable options before countries went into lockdown? They would have no option but to resort to using materials like rags and cotton which do more harm than good. Being cooped up at home already affects people mentally, we shouldn’t really be letting it affect us physically too.
So, what can we do?
With the entire world shining the spotlight on the pandemic, maybe we can use this time to bring some focus to the topic of menstruation. Globally, the steps that have been taken to contain the situation is commendable. Essential services are being made readily available – from produce to commodities. However, while there are people helping around in community kitchens and donating money, there should be more initiatives to distribute menstrual products to the homeless and the poor. It’s bad enough that most third world countries like Kenya, India, and Bangladesh still have limited access to sanitary napkins, the current pandemic has made access even more sparse.
According to a study published in the Lancet Journal of Public Health, only around 30% of people who used sanitary products knew about menstrual cups. And in countries where products are available, access to products is still a struggle for people who identify as male or non-gender binary. Even now, most menstrual products are targeted at females where transpeople are ignored. and by doing this, we are excluding an entire section of menstruators.
Moreover, there are people who rely on getting free tampons at work or in schools, and with countries announcing lockdowns and curfews, they are taking the brunt of the global pandemic. Even the struggles of the homeless have doubled, having to look for shelter as well as clean toilets. During this time, most shelters are focused on providing meals and clothing whereas menstrual hygiene has yet again taken a back seat.
Maybe if we had conversations about menstruating the way we do about eating, people would consider pads just as important as food. This is why it has become necessary to stop beating around the bush and addressing the situation at hand.