At Khulewadi slum in Chandannagar, 25-year-old Reshma and 16-year-old Raina (names changed) recall “embarrassing” moments when they had to wait the entire day to dispose of their sanitary napkins in the garbage bin near the community toilet. “During the day, there was always a group of boys at the spot, and we would feel shy. There was no option but to wrap the sanitary pads in paper, put a red dot on them and then wait till late to throw them with other garbage,” the sisters said.
At Thane’s Patalipada slum, a 26-year-old married woman spoke of the “nightmarish experience” of waiting in long queues to use the community toilet during the ongoing lockdown. “The situation was really bad in April and I would get cramps during my menstrual period. To wait in a long queue was a nightmare. Now, several people from the area have gone to their native places. So, thankfully, there are just 10 people in the queue,” she said.
Sixteen-year-old Manisha (name changed), who stays at a slum in Vimannagar and attends Pathara school run by the PMC, said they were careful about maintaining cleanliness at their small home. “We have heard of many cases of the coronavirus disease in the area and I really do not want to go out. We have a small mori (washing place) in our one room. So we keep washing our hands frequently,” she said. She has three sisters and, due to the lockdown, their father, an autorickshaw driver, is sitting at home. “My stomach hurts a lot when I get my period and I feel shy when there are so many people at home,” she said.
At Ramwadi slum near Ambedkar school, 16-year-old Anita (name changed) has a disabled brother and a younger sister. Her mother cannot afford to buy sanitary napkins and Anita is grateful for the supply from an NGO. “I have three children to feed. So, at times, I give her old cloth to use,” says Anita’s mother.
For most of the adolescents and young women in slum areas, relief camps and smaller houses, challenges are manifold when it comes to menstrual health and hygiene. Dr Geeta Bora, founder of city-based Spherule Foundation that conducts awareness programmes on menstrual hygiene across the country, said awareness sessions, workshops and distribution of sanitary napkins in government-run schools had come to complete halt.
“Now more than ever, lower middle class and economically poor families are reluctant to spend on sanitary pads and, in our interactions, a majority said they have gone back to their previous ways of handling periods. For ration distribution, there are long lines but when it comes to sanitary napkins we have to convince them to come out and take them,” Dr Bora told The Indian Express.
Dr Bora said sanitary pads could be distributed from door to door but there was a need to challenge “shame”. She pointed out that it took two to three hours to explain the process but when distribution started, some women would come for the supply and this motivated others. At some places, male members of the family also collected the supply, she added.
“Pandemic or no pandemic, women and girls should have access to reproductive and sexual health commodities, including menstrual hygiene products,” said Argentina Matavel Piccin, country representative of United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA). Ahead of World Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, Piccin pointed out that it was extremely significant that sanitary pads had been included in the list of essential services.
On their part, a group of city youngsters in the age group of 18 to 20 – Anjali Dalmia and others co-founded an organisation four years ago — under ‘Project Amara’ have helped more than 2,000 women/girls switch to sustainable menstrual products, such as menstrual cups, cloth pads, and biodegradable pads.
“At some of the bastis and labour camps, women still don’t have access to basic menstrual hygiene products and use dirty rags, which are a health hazard. We will be visiting various urban slums in the city and distribute free cloth pads and menstrual cups and have raised Rs 1.2 lakh through crowdfunding,” Dalmia said. The products will be handed out when women gather to collect food and they will also be educated on how it was important to be self-reliant in managing periods, Dalmia added.
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