By Monica P
Before 2020, period poverty was already a debilitating problem globally. In Indonesia, 1 out of 3 women were already in period poverty. As the pandemic continues to cause economic devastation, the situation is becoming exponentially worse for a lot of women. Periods don’t stop in a pandemic.
Period poverty is not just the lack of access to period products. It also includes the lack of access to education, clean water, and adequate facilities. Period poverty is not an isolated issue. It is a systemic problem rising from an existing patriarchal society that does little to prioritize women’s social, physical and emotional needs. These toxic social structures leave women deprived of essential goods such as period products and without access to education surrounding their personal health.
The pandemic has made period poverty worse through multiple ways, including:
- Increased unemployment and economic hardships
- Limited access to stores and pharmacies
- Customers stockpiling
- Supply shortages
- Restricted access to water and sanitation facilities
Decreased access to period products
The pandemic has had a huge financial impact on many households, making it even more difficult for families to cover the costs of period products for multiple people in the household. A study conducted by Always (sold under the brand name Whisper in Indonesia) found that 1 in 3 parents are concerned about their ability to afford period products. These products might be widely available to purchase in stores but it does not mean that everyone can afford to purchase them.
Furthermore, in a survey conducted by Plan International, respondents have cited that the price of period products have actually increased during the pandemic. Of the health professionals surveyed, over half (58%) of them have noted that an increase in the price of products is exacerbating period poverty during the lockdown. This is primarily due to supply shortages and sudden increases in demand. In the UK, the number of girls who reported that they can’t afford to buy period products has tripled since the start of lockdown. Of those, 54% said they had to use toilet paper instead.
Barriers to education
With schools all going virtual and girls are made to stay at home, the immediate and routine connection with those who provide information on menstrual hygiene management and support such as teachers, friends, health workers and extended family members is put to a halt.
The increased barriers to receiving accurate information means that young girls are more likely to mismanage their menstrual health. Schools and the government are struggling to keep students on-track with curriculum as not all students have reliable internet access or computers at home. Educators are not able to teach their syllabi effectively let alone prioritize sex education! This leads to higher drop-out rates and an increased risk of early and unplanned pregnancies due to a lack of knowledge about reproductive health.
Furthermore, the lack of a support system further worsens the stigma and taboo around menstruation. This increases girls’ feelings of embarrassment and shame towards their periods. According to Plan International, around 20% of women surveyed felt more embarrassed during their periods in the pandemic.
The restrictions imposed by the pandemic have made it difficult for some women to gain access to facilities for washing, changing or cleaning during menstruation. This means a lack of access to clean water to wash-up, facilities with adequate privacy to change and a proper means to dispose of their used period products.
This may seem unimaginable to many. But this is the reality for the tens of thousands of homeless women and families who lost their jobs, couldn’t pay rent and were evicted from their homes. Without reliable access to clean water, women cannot manage their menstruation safely and hygienically. In addition to water, basic items such as pads or soap may be more difficult to come by and may be rationed too in public agencies such as homeless shelters.
Problems accessing reliable sanitation facilities with privacy have also become more profound. With the pandemic, some women are unable to easily access a toilet outside of their homes, in another household or a public toilet, due to the risks of contracting COVID-19. According to a survey in the UK, 26% of girls felt that they couldn’t leave their home due to their periods. One can only imagine that this number would be drastically higher in less developed countries.
In Indonesia, a common practice is to wash used pads before disposing of them, since period blood is considered ‘dirty’ and to remove the smell, due to certain beliefs and fears that others would find out that they were menstruating. This again further solidifies the stigma and taboo surrounding periods in our society.
What can we do?
As a menstruator myself, it pains me to hear that some women are unable to access the basic supplies needed to manage their menstruation each month. If we are in a position to do make a change, we must take action!
This is part of the reason why Nicole and I started Nona. We want to make period care and education easily accessible and better for women across Indonesia. We want to build a community to normalize period talk and discussions about our individual stories.
Beyond Nona, here are a couple of ideas in which, together, we can do to help those in period poverty:
- Educate yourself, the more you know, the more you can share. You’re already doing this by reading this article. Follow us on Instagram to learn more!
- Get talking about your period, breaking the stigma and taboo starts with you. Talk about it with your family, friends, colleagues, pets. We’re all in this together, let’s raise awareness.
- Donate period products and help a fellow menstruator out. I guarantee you, this small act will put a smile on a woman’s face.
Got any other ideas? Let us know through Instagram or leave a comment below!