“Periods don’t stop during pandemics” – WaterAid supports to find alternate MHM solution in view of sanitary pad shortage

Posted by
WaterAid India
28 May 2020
menstrual hygiene
Image: WaterAid/Prashanth Vishwanathan

As India gradually opens towards a new normal following almost two months of lockdown, one phenomenon that has remained constant and in need of more focus is Menstrual Hygiene Management or MHM. As we observe Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28, 2020, a sizeable population of girls and women continue to grapple with challenges to access safe and hygienic menstrual hygiene products, information, and sanitation facilities required to manage periods hygienically and with dignity.

The COVID 19 pandemic has created a gap in the production and distribution of menstrual hygiene products. To ascertain the supply chain and access issues, the Menstrual Health Alliance India (MHAI) conducted a rapid response survey in mid-April 2020. MHAI is co-chaired by WaterAid India. Respondents of the survey included 45 organisations (NGOs and manufacturers) that manufacture or distribute sanitary products across India and promote MHM in communities.

  • The survey highlighted increased challenges for girls and women to access period products. 82% of organizations noted that there was either no access or severely restricted access to menstrual products in communities that they work in, especially for sanitary padsOne of the major reason behind this was partial to no operation of production units. The survey found that58% of the small and medium scale manufacturers were unable to operate at capacity and 37% were not operational at all. 

Some organizations supporting production units shared that they were either planning or have started producing much-needed face masks, potentially diverting resources away from the production of sanitary pads.

In the absence of sanitary pads, girls and women may turn to using cloth, but without adequate information on proper use and maintenance of cloth, they risk unhygienic management of menses.

Globally, one in four women and girls do not have access to a decent toilet, making it more difficult to manage their periods hygienically and with dignity. During the pandemic, some shared or public toilets have closed or not been disinfected regularly, resulting in safety risks for those who rely on these facilities, while those who have found it harder to get water at a time when households need to wash their hands more regularly may have less water for menstrual needs.

As supply chain hurdles look to stay awhile, WaterAid has collaborated with Women and Child Development Department, Madhya Pradesh to help adolescent girls and women opt for an alternative yet hygienic way to manage their periods by using homemade cotton cloth pads made using a clean cotton cloth. With this measure, WaterAid India hopes to offset the implications of the gap in production and distribution channel of sanitary pads while keeping the behaviour change towards better MHM intact.

Arundati Muralidharan, Manager Policy, WASH, WaterAid India, said:

Over the past 10 years, India has made significant strides to improve menstrual hygiene practices in terms of providing information on menstruation and menstrual hygiene, addressing taboos, and improved access to menstrual hygiene products. The COVID-19 pandemic and the lockdown heightened the menstrual health and hygiene needs of women and girls across India, as access to both information and products from regular channels was unexpectedly and suddenly curtailed. 

We need to be responsive and agile to the current situation. We see that adolescent girls who may typically use sanitary pads, now have to use cloth, but do not know how to. They need information on how to make, use, and maintain cotton cloth pads in a safe and hygienic manner. We need to get this information to them in easily accessible formats. 

During the lockdown, girls and women using shared sanitation facilities – community toilets, public toilets, have found themselves unable to use the toilet when they have to – especially during their periods. It's challenging to maintain hygiene when you cannot use a toilet and don’t have access to water. 

The pandemic has underscored the need to strengthen menstrual health and hygiene programming per se across the value chain, addressing access to information, a basket of safe menstrual hygiene products, access to WASH facilities and waste disposal options. This way girls and women across India have safe and healthy periods in general and during crises. 


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