Indore: Periods do not stop during the pandemic....not even for those who are walking for hundreds of kilometres to return home. Thousands of women and teenagers who are walking from Maharashtra to their villages in Uttar Pradesh are facing the same menstrual cramps, weakness and sometimes without the protection of a proper sanitary pad, and their ordeal is being overlooked because it is not visible.
When photographs of cracked feet and faces wracked with hunger and exhaustion started surfacing, the administration and various social and voluntary organisations started offering them water, food packets and slippers. But, the photos could not capture the pain due to the periods, and no one, least of all the women, talked about it in the open as they trudged on with the pain, burning up the last inch of strength in their bodies.
“You cannot say and even expect an entire group to wait for us, because we are having periods,” explained Savita Arya, a woman undergoing extreme period cramps, shared.
As per the National Family Health Survey estimate of the 336 million menstruating women in India about 121 million (roughly 36 per cent) women are using sanitary napkins, locally or commercially produced.
Expecting these women to have access to sanitary napkins is essential putting on a rosy goggles and refusing to look at the reality. It was surprising for Meena Hinduja, a social worker, when 17-year-old Praveen whispered to her if she could give her a sanitary napkin.
This happened on Friday morning when Meena along with some other social workers had gone to Bypass road to distribute food and ORS among migrant workers.
“I was actually pained and happy at the same time, and my immediate reaction was to reach into my purse and give her my emergency menstruation kit,” Meena said. She was surprised that the little girl actually knew about sanitary napkins and could use one.
“I felt ashamed not to have thought of it before, so of course, the next day, I plan to carry sanitary napkins for as many women as I can,” Meena said.
Travelling during menstruation without necessary hygiene can double the risks of infections and infertility, said gynaecologist Dr Usha Shrivastava.
“Using unclean pads or cloth pieces or other alternatives can actually lead to fungal infections, reproductive tract infection, urinary infection and even make a woman vulnerable to infertility,” she said. These risks are doubled during travelling, as we come across several new infections, environment and risks in long-distance commute.
“There are still women who are using things like dried leaves, plastic, cloth and such as a substitute for sanitary napkins and this is already a major issue in the entire country,” Usha said.
Explaining what hurdles basic menstrual hygiene, psychiatrist Dr Smita Agrawal said, “In India, it is still more ofa social stigma than availability and access to sanitary napkins.” She explained that many people treat a woman differently and label her as ‘unclean’ if she is menstruating.
“Menstruation is a natural process, which actually shows the blessing, i.e. fertility of a woman, but nobody acknowledges it, which results in even teenagers feeling embarrassed about getting her period,” Smita said.