Lockdowns, border closures and nationwide business shutdowns. These are all ramifications of the Covid-19 pandemic that the majority of us have experienced at least once this year. Notably these pandemic generated consequences have made it especially difficult each month for marginalised women and young girls experiencing menstruation.
As obvious as it may be, we need to express that periods do not stop even during a pandemic.
Charity Organisation, Plan International Australia, states that “on any single day during this health emergency, 800 million diverse women and girls are menstruating and grappling with the unique challenges of doing so in a global pandemic.”
An example of how this Covid emergency is impacting one of our International Partners can be seen within Uganda. As restrictions continue and daily new cases appear to be increasing, developing countries such as Uganda are still struggling with the impacts of the pandemic. As of 10th of November Uganda Authorities have reported a total of 14,574 infections and 133 deaths. (These figures may be under-reported due to lack of testing facilities and services)
To draw more context to this topic it is important to note a few key statistics surrounding menstruation in Uganda and how Covid may affect a local woman or young girls’ circumstance.
School attendance for young women is substantially lower than boys in Uganda due to reasons such as:
- substantial embarrassment and fear of teasing related to menstruation
- lack of a private space and wash rooms with inadequate water to clean and wash the body and hands
- lack of materials for managing menstrual hygiene (limited access to sanitary pads and cleaning products)
- inappropriate facilities for disposal of sanitary materials
- lack of psychological support and limited understanding/support from male peers
This statistic is shocking enough, but the gender inequality continues to grow as young girls across the country struggle to gain access to hygienic sanitary products due to reasons such as store closures, lack of income and lack of resources due to Covid implications.
In rural and hard to reach areas, there are around only 1-2 shops and markets available for women to access sanitary products. In this environment there are only a few different types of sanitary items available. The first is disposable sanitary pads. These pads can be purchased at the local store or markets. With Covid restrictions closing stores and markets nationwide, access to disposable sanitary pads became difficult for many in these rural areas. In addition to this, essential services dispatched by the government during this time rarely or even never gave out pads to the communities that needed it most.
From a financial perspective pads can be bought at a cost of approximately $ 0.42 USD for each pad (from a survey taken by Development Together in 2018). Each month approximately 20 -25 pads will be required to cover the time when a female is menstruating. This will be a total cost of $8.40-$10.50 USD (monthly). Spending this amount of money is prohibitive and completely impossible for most females in poor communities with wages around $44 USD per month, this equates to almost 24% of their income being spent on sanitary products. This figure could be higher for most given a lot of the rural populations have been restricted in their work during the pandemic.
As a result of this most girls use old clothes, dirty napkins and even materials like grass, paper, leaves, disposable nappies and cardboard. The lack of appropriate materials to manage menstrual hygiene, poor sanitation and hygiene infrastructure can lead to girls missing school and can affect their reproductive health through infections. This in turn, widens the gap between girls and boys in their education and employability.
Now why doesn’t Uganda introduce reusable sanitary napkins? This product involves a one off payment that will then allow users to wash and re-use the sanitary napkin for up to 3 years. Although they are present in some areas of the country not all rural and regional locations can easily gain access to the resources used to make them. As simple as this solution may sound this has posed difficult as the costs of infrastructure and materials used to make these pads are considered expensive in marginalised and rural areas.
Enter, Casey Hughes, Business Student from Curtin University Australia. The now graduate, spent some time in Uganda as a part of Development Together’s Business and Engineering Internship in Busia, Uganda. During her internship she had the opportunity to interview local girls and women and develop a sustainable business plan for Seeds of Hope Integrated Ministries, Uganda, a Not-For-Profit organisation and partner of Development Together that empowers and advocates for the marginalised. The Business Plan focuses on building the first sustainable reusable pad distribution within the community to provide both affordable reusable sanitary pad kits and education on appropriate sanitation and hygiene during menstruation.
The Business Plan aims to provide kits of reusable sanitary pads known as “SMART Pads” which can last for up to three years, providing women and girls with sufficient protection during menstruation. Casey projects that within these three years, women and girls can go about their day to day activities and enjoy access to quality hygiene products with high self-esteem and dignity.
“Once SHIM implements the business plan, it will make such a big difference because those girls [in Busia] will then have access to reusable sanitary pads and they will be able to go to school. It will stop them from [leaving school and] having to get married earlier and get pregnant earlier,” Casey tells Development Together in an interview.
However with any proposed solution, comes hurdles, as money and resources are limited during this difficult time. To bring light to these current issues we ask you to spread awareness using the trending hashtag #PeriodsInPandemic. Your voice can make a difference and we hope this can create positive change in communities all over the globe that struggle with the same issues.