As the pandemic hit us, Indian government went on to impose lockdown to contain the spread of virus. While the decision was taken with the right intention in it’s core, as lot of challenges and consequences emerged as a result of this lockdown and unpreparedness was perhaps the most predominant challenge for the 3 weeks of lockdown. Ranging from confusion, huge queues at stores, outrunning of supply despite of ample stock in inventories, unequal distribution of supplies all started to emerge as a challenge almost at the same time. This has now left the economy in shambles where jobs are at stake, pay cuts are common and basic groceries are overpriced.
The government started developing measures, but a number of civil society organizations came together to provide relief materials to various groups of vulnerable people through multiple initiatives. With the impending decision of lockdown extension, greater initiatives are being undertaken to tackle the situation.
Now, out of all of these, what happens to the menstrual health rights of a menstruator? With the Disaster Management Act, 2005 and the 3rd addendum as released by the Central Government, essential commodities now include ‘groceries’ which includes ‘sanitary pads’. But does that solve the problem of access? Let’s break it down further:
- Jan Aushadhi Centres where government subsidized and manufactured bio-degradable pads are available at a much-subsidized rates are located, but the centres may not be accessible to all. In Kolkata, there are just 19 centres out of which a couple of them are closed due to lack of workforce and few do not have enough supply
- With the lockdown affecting mobility in general, a menstruator’s mobility, especially cis-women in an average household is much worse affected that the men in the house. Also, any particular area has limited number of functional, well-stocked pharmacies at this time. So even if a pharmacy is well stocked, a user still might not be able to access it
- With widespread awareness on menstrual health and hygiene, it is true that a lot of users have switched to using disposable sanitary napkins, where a considerable number of them use commercial brands as whisper, stayfree, carefee etc. With financial crisis kicking in, a woman’s menstrual health is the least priority in Indian households. Affordability levels have already dipped at this moment, therefore for families who could afford commercial brands, can no longer afford them or may be have to choose other household ‘essentials’ over menstrual products
- With daily wage labourers suffering immense financial crisis, their priority becomes accessing food over menstrual products, therefore putting menstruators in the families to go back to use unhygienic products and/or practices
- With manufacturers working at reduced capacities, the supply chain is burdened and disrupted, thereby causing scarcity of even commercial brands of sanitary napkins at pharmacies
- Whereas Ration Card holders are being given free of cost and in some cases subsidised food grains, through fair price shops and ICDS centres, sanitary napkins are not available there.
Considering these issues, I decided to approach the government of West Bengal to subsidize commercial sanitary napkins and ensure seamless supply of products not just in pharmacies (Government and Private), but also in general grocery stores, distribution through ICDS centres and/or fair price shops under Public Distribution Scheme until this lockdown period and till a few days after this lockdown is lifted.
As a menstrual health educator, I have been working with young women and girls across urban and rural spaces for a long time, and it is on all of their behalf that I am urging the West Bengal Government and commercial sanitary pads manufacturer Procter and Gamble (Whisper napkins) and Johnson & Johnson (Stayfree napkins).
I have already sent individual letters to the Department of Health and Family Welfare, the finance department, the State Ministry of Women and Child Development and the State Home Secretary, West Bengal. I am reaching out to readers to sign this petition to simultaneously act and put pressure on the government to take my request into consideration, and ensure affordable access to menstrual products for women, young girls and all menstruators during this lockdown. With our fight in preventing the spread of COVID-19, let’s hope we don’t end up ignoring the menstrual health of millions of menstruators in the state and put them at risk here.
Please sign this, spread this, and help amplify this! You can access the petition here. #BattleAgainstCovid #BleedingInTheTimeOfPandemic
Sanjina runs an organization named Rangeen Khidki Foundation based out of Kolkata. She has been working as a gender consultant predominantly focusing on menstrual health education. She is a MHM Action Network Fellow with Youth Ki Awaaz and WSSSC and have been working in this space for quite some time now.
Featured Image Source: South China Morning Post