“Periods don’t stop during pandemics” – WaterAid plea to help women and girls get essential period products in lockdown

Posted by
Rosie Stewart
27 May 2020
Women and girls
Julianna, 16, hangs up her cotton sanitary towels to dry after washing them, these are given to young girls and women in the community as part of a hygiene awareness project in Morondavo, Madagascar, April 2016
Image: WaterAid/ Kate Holt

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As countries have been forced into lockdowns to fight the spread of Covid-19, women and girls across the globe are facing increasing struggles to access the sanitary products and facilities they need to manage their periods hygienically and with dignity, says WaterAid.

The international charity says the pandemic has exposed and exacerbated gender inequalities and is calling for menstrual health and water and sanitation provision to be prioritised in the long-term responses to the Coronavirus outbreak.

Last month, the Menstrual Health Alliance – co-chaired by WaterAid India – conducted a rapid response survey among 67 organisations that manufacture and/or distribute sanitary products across India and some African nations. Three in five organisations (62%) said there were increased challenges for women to access period products in the communities they work with. One fifth (22%) said people had been unable to access sanitary materials altogether.

Of 44 small and medium scale manufacturers of sanitary materials, only 25% were operating fully, and 29 organisations are either planning to produce, or have started producing, much needed face masks, diverting resources away from sanitary pad production.

Two-thirds of organisations that distributed sanitary products (67%) had to pause normal operations, because the usual channels they rely on, such as schools and community outreach groups, have closed.

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. Others have found it harder to get water at a time when households need to wash their hands more regularly and may not have sufficient water for menstrual needs.

Thérèse Mahon, Regional South Asia Manager at WaterAid and Coordinator for Global Menstrual Health and Hygiene Collective, said:  
“As governments across the world work round the clock to contain the Covid-19 pandemic, attentions have rightly been focussed on vital life-saving measures such as health care and the provision personal protective equipment. 

“However, periods do not stop during pandemics. Disrupted water and sanitation services and supply chains for period products means many people are finding it much more difficult to access everything they need to manage their periods. This combined with a lack of privacy under lockdown and the closure of services at schools, health centres and communities that provide menstrual health products, information and help tackle menstrual stigma, risk halting or even reversing the enormous progress that has been made towards better menstrual health globally.

“As we emerge from lockdown and develop long-term solutions to the crisis, now is the opportunity for governments to prioritise the provision of clean water, good sanitation and hygiene – not only critical in the fight against coronavirus but also essential for women and girls to manage their periods.”

WaterAid is continuing its work throughout the pandemic to provide clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene to people living in poverty, including helping vulnerable people to access menstrual hygiene products and information. 

In South Africa, for example, WaterAid in collaboration with the Ministry for Women, Youth and Persons with Disabilities, UN and other partners handed over hygiene products, including more than 30,000 sanitary pads and posters with vital messaging on how to stay safe from infection, to the Department for Social Development.

The products have been distributed among vulnerable communities in South Africa including child and youth care centres, shelters for the victims of crime and gender-based violence as well as to vulnerable girls who would normally rely on schools to access period products.

The charity is also ensuring communities receive important information around how to manage periods hygienically, while dispelling taboos around menstruation. In Rwanda, teenage students have written and performed in educational radio dramas that are being broadcast on community radio station Radio Ishingiro, reaching a third of the population.


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For more information, please contact: 
Rosie Stewart, Senior Media Officer, [email protected];
or Laura Crowley, PR Manager, [email protected].
Or call our after-hours press line on +44 (0)7887 521 552,
or email [email protected].


WaterAid is working to make clean water, decent toilets and good hygiene normal for everyone, everywhere within a generation. The international not-for-profit organisation works in 28 countries to change the lives of the poorest and most marginalised people. Since 1981, WaterAid has reached 26.4 million people with clean water and 26.3 million people with decent toilets. For more information, visit www.wateraid.org/uk, follow @WaterAid or @WaterAidPress on Twitter, or find WaterAid UK on Facebook at www.facebook.com/wateraid.

  • 785 million people in the world – one in ten – do not have clean water close to home.[1]
  • 2 billion people in the world – almost one in four – do not have a decent toilet of their own.[2]
  • Around 310,000 children under five die every year from diarrhoeal diseases caused by poor water and sanitation. That's almost 800 children a day, or one child every two minutes.[3]
  • Every £1 invested in water and toilets returns an average of £4 in increased productivity.[4]
  • Just £15 can provide one person with clean water.[5]

[1] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[2] WHO/UNICEF Joint Monitoring Programme (JMP) Progress on drinking water, sanitation and hygiene: 2017 update and SDG Baselines

[3] Prüss-Ustün et al. (2014) and The Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (2018)

[4] World Health organization (2012) Global costs and benefits of drinking-water supply and sanitation interventions to reach the MDG target and universal coverage

[5] www.wateraid.org