By Sheena Kasana
Member, You’re Wonderful Project;
"Women's rights is not only an abstraction, a cause, it is also a personal affair. It is not only about us, it is also about me and you. Just the two of us.” - Toni Morrison
After years of being shackled by stigma and taboos, menstruation is finally finding a way as a topic of conversation for many Indian families. Although we have come miles ahead in undoing the internalized shame reinforced by patriarchy; class, caste, and gender continue to be overlooked as factors impacting one’s access to sanitary products and education. The unconscious biases coming from our socio-economic privileges contribute to creating a false sense of security and equality around menstruation which prevents us from recognizing the important interplay of intersectional identities around menstruation.
On March 24th, 2020, the BJP led government imposed a nationwide lockdown in response to the pandemic. The Covid-19 crisis has touched every aspect of life including the shutdown of major essential goods manufacturing companies, leaving menstruators from different castes and class as some of the worst-hit communities during the pandemic. Under the Essential Commodity Act, items such as edible oil and seeds, vanaspati, pulses, rice, sugarcane, and its products; petroleum and petroleum products are classified as essential items. However crucial items, such as sanitary pads, tissue paper, diapers, and soap find no mention.
According to the NFHS-4 data, sanitary napkins along with tampons are used by 56% of women in India. During Covid-19 only 15% of girls had access to sanitary napkins. The classification of menstrual products as non-essentials severely impacted the supply of these products during the pandemic, making them inaccessible to a majority of menstruators, especially those coming from vulnerable sects of society.
Period poverty is defined as the lack of access to sanitary products and menstrual awareness due to severe socio-economic gaps within the masses. The absence of washing facilities, toilets, and waste management also come within period poverty. It is also important to acknowledge that period poverty doesn’t only impact women. Not all women menstruate and not all those who menstruate are women.
Period poverty can have several detrimental consequences. Around 40% of students in India miss school when they are menstruating as a result of social stigma, shame, and inaccessibility to proper menstrual products. Period poverty can have just as much impact on one’s mental health as on their physical health. Research has shown that there is a direct connection between period poverty and mental health. Period poverty can increase feelings of shame and embarrassment. Furthermore, research shows that women impacted by period poverty are more likely to experience moderate or severe depression as compared to women who don't experience period poverty. The stress-induced by lack of awareness and access to resources can negatively impact one’s self-perception and mental health.
While there isn’t a single solution to end period poverty, we all can do our bit in tackling this problem. By engaging in conversations in our circles we can create more awareness around period poverty and normalize menstruation as a natural process. The responsibility has to be shared by both the government and the people. This collaborative effort can pave the way towards menstrual equity and deconstruct the stigmas and structural patterns of oppression around menstruation. Menstrual hygiene is one of the fundamental human rights that require our immediate focus and attention, especially in today’s times.