BY WINNIE CHEMTAI
In this time and age, and with the strides made in the various fields of knowledge and technology, one would easily assume that matters concerning menstrual health hygiene are now a walk in the park for all the concerned. This is not the case. For many women and girls, meeting their monthly cycle requirements in a dignified healthy way is more often rendered difficult. This can be attributed to the sharp stings of poverty, cultural taboos, gender inequality and a few traditional social norms. Of late, the COVID-19 pandemic has added itself to this list and its effects are even more devastating.
The COVID-19 pandemic facilitated the stay home and work from home policies. For the jobs that were not flexible enough, retrenchment was an eventuality. For many women, no jobs = no money. With the constant demand in needs such as food, rent and other utility bills that require recurrent payment, the urgency of hygienic sanitary materials is easily overlooked. For some, risking their health is more acceptable than being locked out of one’s house due to rent arrears.
Schools, community based and non-governmental organizations also fell victim to the brutality of the pandemic laws. These organisations are famous for providing poor girls and women with the necessary sanitary materials alongside the required information for the illiterate and vulnerable adolescent girls makes it hard to achieve sanitary health. Diversion of funds from sanitary materials to other “essential” products make it hard for women and girls relying on the aid to meet menstrual health hygiene.
Women and girls in rural areas and other marginalized communities may not have access to menstrual health hygiene materials. Disposable sanitary materials which need regular replenishment may be out of stock due to panic buying, hiked prices or the restricted movement which may stand in the way of retailers who want to restock their supplies.
Women and girls tested positive for Covid-19 or are suspected to be positive and are in quarantine may lack the necessary sanitary materials. Other quarantine areas may lack water and other sanitation services required to attain menstrual hygiene. Water rationing in various places and unavailability of sewerage services provide unsuitable environments for menstruating persons. Putting on and removing personal protective equipment prevents quick changing of menstrual materials leading women to bleed into protective suits, suppress menstruation through use of oral contraceptive pills or potentially miss days of work. Use of tampons in such cases may lead to toxic shock syndrome.
Women constitute a large percentage of work force in the health care facilities. Period pain due to cramping of muscles may make it hard for them to work. Reproductive health care services which are not termed priority at the moment are not made available for women and girls. Lack of contraceptives may lead to heavy periods which maybe hard to contain.
The movement of persons to the countryside on the onset of Covid-19 caused a drastic change in the environment. The change in environment brings about the change in the ovulation days of menstruating persons. Change in diet also contributes to changing patterns of ovulation in the menstrual cycle. Women and girls from poor backgrounds may suffer from anaemia due to lack of supplementary diet during menstruation.
The heavy use of contraceptives by campus students has reduced quite impressively and in regards to that there’s little or no disruption in the menstrual cycle. It should be highly noted that most families in rural areas and suburbs rarely have entertainment materials as televisions and other audio visual sources of information. Most people residing in such areas therefore remain ignorant of the impending health dangers brought about by Covid-19. Life continues normally and in such cases the spread becomes inevitable.
Having highlighted the factors standing on the way to achieving menstrual hygiene, various measures should be put in place to mitigate them and avoid other rising issues on the same note. The government in conjunction with community based organisations and other well-wishers who cherish the menstrual health hygiene of women and girls should put across measures to combat the issues highlighted above.
Provision of sanitary materials should be categorized as essential and any efforts towards the manufacturing or supply of the same should be reinforced. In so doing however, the organisations in charge of distributing menstrual health hygiene materials should follow the guidelines put across by the Ministry of health. They should maintain social distance in exercising their services to combat the spread of Covid-19. Furthermore there should be production of reusable sanitary materials that are cost effective for every menstruating persons. Necessary sanitary information should be provided through reachable means such as free comics and written media. There should be constant provision of painkillers and contraceptives to aid women and girls through period pains and heavy periods respectively.
There is need to extend guidance and counselling services to those who lost their jobs following the stay-at-home order. They should be advised to economize the little they have as they await the government’s order to remove the restrictions placed on them and their businesses. The government should alternatively consider cash transfers to her citizens without discrimination
Mobile clinics should be provided by the government to ease the movement of menstrual health facilities. This will help curb the hiking of prices by retailers. It will also reduce the loss of already unavailable funds through corruption. In cases where health care facilities are far apart, the sense of leadership in the region should be of help. They should make menstrual health hygiene materials reachable for women and girls within the region.
We are currently living in difficult times following the emergence of this Covid-19 pandemic. In regards to the financial strain caused forthwith, the government should lift taxes on essential menstrual health materials. On the same note, sanitary materials should be made available with subsidized prices to allow every menstruating persons’ affordability. Essential utility products as water and sewerage services should be made available in order to create a clean and suitable environment for menstruating persons. Billing on such essential services should be made free or at least highly subsidized to allow accessibility in all homes.
To wrap it up, the government should be aware of crucial issues such as menstrual health hygiene and in such times focus on them as well. Menstrual health hygiene is a concern that we should all strive to meet.