Written by Hilda Alberda, Director Monitoring, Evaluation and Learning at Simavi
Amsterdam, 26 May 2020 – The 28th of May is Menstrual Hygiene Day. Since 2014, a growing number of people and organisations worldwide celebrate, talk and post about menstruation on this day. But, why? Why discuss something that seems so normal and private? And, shouldn’t we focus on COVID-19 right now? People are dying from that!
Menstruation: keep it a secret!
Celebrating Menstrual Hygiene Day is important, because menstruation is still stigmatised. Why is that? Yes, menstruation is bloody. And yet, it is a natural part of life and a sign of women’s reproductive health and fertility. Shouldn’t that be something to be proud of, or at least, not something society tells you to keep a secret. Especially, as an estimated 1.8 billion girls (UNICEF, 2019), women, transgender men, intersex and non-binary persons of reproductive age menstruate every month.
Unfortunately, menstruation is stigmatised in most cultures around the world, which influences women’s confidence, well-being, participation in social and economic life and (thus,) gender equality. It gets even more difficult if you are amongst the estimated 500 million women and girls that lack access to gender-sensitive facilities and menstrual products to manage their periods (FSG, 2020). Or, when social and cultural norms and practices make it difficult to stay healthy and well, to feel positive about their bodies and confident and to fully participate in daily life, during menstruation.
Does COVID-19 affect menstruation?
The world is affected by the COVID-19 break-out. People are getting sick and are even dying from the virus and the restrictions to manage the spread of COVID-19 have a huge impact on people’s lives. So, what does the pandemic got to do with menstruation?
There is currently no data indicating that the virus can spread through the transmission of blood. Apart from the fact that stress and anxiety related to the pandemic might affect women’s menstrual cycle, there is likely no direct effect on menstruation. Should we then still celebrate Menstrual Hygiene Day during these unprecedented times? Yes. Because:
women and girls do not stop bleeding and lockdowns and other measures, like social distancing, make it even more challenging for them to stay healthy and well during their menstruation.
Experience from other health emergencies, and initial anecdotal evidence point towards a number of areas where COVID-19 is likely to have a secondary effect on menstrual health. For those that do not have access to a toilet at home, personal care during menstruation will be more complicated. More frequently visiting shared toilets puts women and girls at increased risk of COVID-19 transmission during their periods.
In quarantine, women and girls might not have a safe and private place to change their cloth or menstrual products. Furthermore, hygiene protocols to avoid the spread of COVID-19 require water and soap or other disinfectants. In households that have limited access to water, COVID-19 might be prioritised over menstrual health. This also applies to the household income, which might reduce spending money on menstrual products and generally, it can be hard to buy menstrual products when supply chains are affected due to the pandemic.
The new normal
On the other hand, the pandemic might be an opportunity. As we adjust to ‘the new normal’ in terms of social distancing, couldn’t we turn that into something positive? Could, not having to hide your menstruation, become the new normal? Could we not lift menstruation out of the taboo spheres and make it into something that does not have to be hidden? At the same time, being realistic about menstruation, that it can be inconvenient or might affect how you feel. At Simavi, we embrace Menstrual Hygiene Day as an opportunity to take menstruation out of the taboo spheres and celebrate it even in these uncertain times.
Simavi and our work on menstrual health
Women’s and girls’ knowledge, and experience of menstruation influence their understanding and decision-making over their bodies as well as their confidence, and well-being.
Moreover, menstrual health is key to the fulfilment of women’s rights and at the same time connected to the rights to health, education, gender, dignity, water, and sanitation of any person who menstruates. Simavi advocates to continue to invest and prioritise menstrual health, also during this pandemic. We do this with our partners and many other organisations under the umbrella of Global Menstrual Hygiene Day. We are proud to be part of a very active global menstrual health community, that has already developed many materials and guidelines to support organisations working on this topic during COVID-19.