COVID-19 PANDEMIC AND HEALTH-SEEKING BEHAVIOUR OF MENSTRUATORS IN INDIA
By Purnanjali Chandra (Uninhibited)
Menstruation has always been within the radar of extensive taboos and stigma. It is the onset of the unprecedented times brought by the global pandemic, that aggravated the extent of stigmatization associated with menstruation and menstruators. This has intensified “period poverty” across the globe and even more for the developing countries, such as India and the under-resourced regions. Furthermore, resource access and mobility have also been largely restricted as a consequence of the lockdown rules. The pandemic altered our understanding of “essential goods” depending on the requirements of the common public. This approach went on to prioritize the hygiene products required to deal with critical medical conditions and overshadowed the need to maintain the constant supply of health products required for menstruators. In under-resourced regions, these impacts get aggravated. It is important to realize that menstrual health and hygiene is important and the products required to ensure and promote self-care for the menstruators are equally “essential”.
The pandemic has also challenged the means of traditional medicinal help. In the present condition, medical priority is rendered only to those who are highly critical. Amidst this conundrum of institutional stability and medical emergency, the need for menstrual health and hygiene has completely been suppressed. There are regular social incidents that reverberate these voices of suffering.
Meena (name kept anonymous for maintaining privacy), is a young woman for whom vaginal infection every month is normal. She chose to normalize her bodily discomfort because of her fear to visit hospitals or clinics that have covid patients admitted. Furthermore, the clinics that do not have a covid facility remain closed which enhances the problems for Meena to avail a quick but safe medical help for her recurring vaginal irritation. The pandemic and restricted mobility have made the situation difficult for many menstruators like that of Meena.
Ruhi (name kept anonymous)too recollected how a pregnant woman at 1:45 am in the night had to give birth to her child with the help of a midwife, because the doctor, even after repeated calls declined to come for help.
The pandemic has also had a bizarre impact on the economy. A larger chunk of people either losing jobs or earning insufficiently for the family with every passing day, has encouraged women to jeopardize their health and hygiene requirements. They often comment and consider their health to be not a matter of consideration at all when the family is going through such an economic crisis.
Meena would mostly choose to not vocalize her problems because her husband wasn’t earning and she did not want to add on to the expenses by wanting to meet or consult a doctor. Even for Sheetal (name kept anonymous) and her daughter, the economic crisis meant giving up on their requirements to ensure hygiene during menstruation. Since her daughter had never used a cloth pad, Sheetal chose to save for her daughter and herself started using cloth pad of any type (old bed sheet/sarees).
The pandemic has also been quite different for disparate groups of people in society. For some, it has been the opportunity to reunite and be with family while for many others, who deal with under-resourced conditions and are marginalized, the pandemic has accelerated certain problems. Menstruators in these conditions of resource scarcity often pay the highest price. The lack of private space makes it difficult for the menstruators to properly dispose of sanitary napkins or to even ensure the required self-hygiene.
Sheetal even highlighted how she would dry the cloth pads in the washroom because of the presence of her son and husband in the house and the discomfort she felt in front of them made it awkward for her to put the cloth out for drying post washing.
Such conditions put women as prey to vaginal infections that even lead to fatal conditions.
However, amidst all the gloom, there still is a hope of situations to gradually improve. Free “telemedicine” is being taken up as an initiative by organizations. Uninhibited also initiated “Hello Saathi” with a thought to respond and bridge the gap for menstruators to access critical information, medical resolution, and prioritize self-care around menstrual health and hygiene and sexual reproductive health.
Saba, an 18-year-old and mother of one called from Bhopal to avail resolution to her problems over a telemedicine platform where she highlighted her bodily discomforts of using sanitary napkins post-pregnancy and the kind of irritation and rash she developed. It was the advice over the platform that encouraged her to go and use a menstrual cup. She later even called to acknowledge the help and relief she felt.
These platforms and interventions coupled with a secured space of dialogue to make menstrual needs sustainable, bear the onus to create a safer and respectful environment for menstruators across the Nation, even during the pandemic.
Purnanjali Chandra is the Governance Lead in Uninhibited, an organization working to make menstruation a non-issue. Having post-graduated in Water Policy and Governance from TISS, Mumbai she wishes to work in the interconnected areas of WASH and MHH for creating an intersectional secure space.