New Delhi: The COVID-19 pandemic has further exacerbated menstrual hygiene-related challenges that affect the health and wellbeing of women and girls particularly among the poorest communities affected by multiple deprivations. The lack of education on the issue, persisting taboos and stigma, limited access to hygienic menstrual products and poor sanitation infrastructure are undermining the educational opportunities, health and overall social status of women and girls in India.
UNICEF, together with adolescent girls, women, partners and advocates, reimagines a world where no girl or woman is held back because of natural menstrual cycles, and where period poverty and stigma is history.
For the third year, as a build up to Menstrual Hygiene Day on 28 May, UNICEF India is leading the #RedDotChallenge campaign to promote safety and hygiene in all aspects of lives – including period management and fighting COVID-19. The campaign encourages people from all walks of life, including celebrities and influencers to speak up on the issue through social media.
Results from the International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health ‘Menstrual Hygiene Preparedness Among Schools in India (2020) found that less than half the girls were aware of menstruation before the age of menarche. Huge learning loss faced by millions of children with schools across India remaining closed, information on how to manage periods has also been curtailed.
Furthermore, a UNICEF and National Institute of Urban Affairs study on adolescents in India (2020) indicates that adolescent girls living in poor urban settings are deprived of proper menstrual hygiene facilities, with one in every two girls unable to use sanitary napkins or tampons during her menstrual period because she cannot afford it.
Rampant misinformation has associated COVID-19 vaccines with infertility and menstrual cycle even when there is no evidence and rumors and fake news are causing much harm. Periods related misinformation and stigma should never stop women and girls from accessing lifesaving services like free vaccination and health care.
Going through menstrual cycles every month, many girls do not know the biological reasons behind menstruation, nor do they understand the sudden discrimination they face. Isolated and stigmatised, they do not have access to safe, hygienic and affordable options to manage menstruation with dignity. This can change, as UNICEF‘s experience in the field demonstrates. By building appropriate and inclusive community awareness and supporting supply of hygienic menstrual products, changing viewpoints and perspectives is possible.
UNICEF India Representative, Dr Yasmin Ali Haque said, “Period shaming, poverty and discriminatory cultural norms on menstrual health affect women and girls’ physical and mental health. The pandemic has made things worse with limited availability of sanitary products and increased pressures on women and girls linked to lockdowns, increased poverty, and disruption of essential services affecting large pockets of the population. We need to break this chain and help every girl and woman to manage periods safely and with dignity. UNICEF is working with partners to equip women and girls with the right information and is calling everyone to break free of these harmful period stereotypes and increase investment in Menstrual Hygiene Management, awareness on menstrual hygiene and ensure easy access to related supplies.
The #RedDotChallenge campaign is in collaboration with digital influencer Diipa Khosla’s Post for Change initiative, using social media for social change. The campaign, culminating on 28 May, has many celebrities and influencers joining in and posting their messages, with the red dot and masks. Celebrities Manushi Chillar and Jennifer Winget, as well as Archita Sahu, Megha Gupta and other young adults demonstrated their support. Digital influencers such as Diipa Khosla, Masoom Minawala, and Juhi Godambe, among many others, also supported the cause.
Today, UNICEF and the Bureau of India Standards (BIS) joined hands to discuss the importance of ensuring that all menstruating women and girls receive high quality products to use, and what that means in terms of establishing norms and standards.
Additionally, a series of online activities webinars, trainings, book releases, competitions and consultation in Odisha, UP, MP, Chattisgarh, Gujarat around Menstrual Hygiene Day were organized by UNICEF across India. In Maharashtra, UNICEF has supported the distribution of 220,000 sanitary pads in urban slums, villages and COVID Care centres in Mumbai, Pune and Nashik, to adolescent girls, sex workers, migrants and women on the move. Millions of people will also be reached with messages and support around safe sanitation practices and hygiene.