Periods don’t stop for pandemics. 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. Millions of women and girls were already struggling to meet their menstrual needs before the current crisis, with an internalized sense of shame often linked to this natural process.
The coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) highlights, or even exacerbates, persisting challenges related to menstruation:
● Lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure
Millions of women and girls lack access to household-level water and sanitation facilities and do not have a private space to change and dispose of menstrual materials. And poor WASH infrastructure in health care facilities affects not only patients, but also female health workers, who make up a large portion of this workforce globally.
● Disrupted access to products
With the discontinuation of subsidized schemes, such as free distribution of menstrual hygiene products in schools and health care centers, many women and girls no longer have access to these supplies. Financial stress from the pandemic’s economic impact causes families to prioritize other basic needs. And disrupted supply chains increase prices of commercial products, making them unaffordable for too many.
● Lack of access to education to address stigma and taboos
Schools, community centers, and other touchpoints where girls and women can typically access critical information about menstruation – as a natural process that is neither shameful nor polluting – are closed due to the pandemic. For those without computers or internet access, other sources of information are almost nonexistent. Consequently, period stigma and taboos persist, and can undermine adolescent girls’ confidence at a key stage of development. There is also limited availability of routine health services amid the COVID-19 response.
Menstrual health and hygiene (MHH) needs to be included in COVID-19 emergency response interventions and policies across sectors, including health, education, WASH, and gender.
As part of the WASH response to COVID-19, there are ample opportunities to continue this work. Partnerships are on the rise with the private sector or charitable organizations to provide soap, as frequent handwashing is one of the primary methods for mitigating the spread of COVID-19; in some cases, these have been accompanied by increased procurement and sales of menstrual hygiene supplies to reach girls and women at home. Handwashing campaigns can also include messages to dispel stigma around MHH. The pandemic is driving efforts to develop WASH infrastructure, which provides an opportunity to ensure that MHH measures are incorporated from the beginning.
At the World Bank, we continue to work to improve menstrual health and hygiene for women and girls across the world, as demonstrated in these recent examples from our operations: