Half of UK women face increased challenges to manage periods under lockdown, says new WaterAid survey

Posted by
Laura Crowley
27 May 2020
Girls and women
WaterAid/ Billy Barraclough

Download photos

More than half of menstruating women (55%) in the UK have experienced increased challenges managing their periods under lockdown while one in seven (14%) have felt more anxious than normal about their periods, according to a new survey by WaterAid.

Ahead of Menstrual Hygiene Day (28 May), the international charity asked 755 British women aged 18 to 55 how the nationwide-lockdown has affected their ability to manage menstruation. The survey revealed difficulties around access and affordability, which reflect a worrying global problem, with the pandemic disrupting the production and distribution of sanitary materials and closing some sanitation facilities. 

WaterAid is working for a world where every woman has the information, period products, clean water and good sanitation to be able to manage their periods hygienically and with dignity. The British public can support this work through the charity’s Fempowered subscription box, where women in the UK can get natural, eco-friendly plastic-free period products delivered to your home that support WaterAid’s work to transform the lives of women and girls around the world.

One in six British women (16%) were not always able to buy the type of sanitary products they wanted during lockdown due to stock shortage, and one in eight (12%) have felt anxious going to shops to get essentials like sanitary products.
To prepare for any supply issues, one in seven women nationally (15%) stockpiled sanitary materials at the start of the lockdown, increasing to one in four (25%) in London, where one in five (19%) also had to visit multiple shops to buy products. 

One in 13 women nationally (8%) have found it harder to afford sanitary products during lockdown, and one in 16 (6%) have had to use makeshift materials like toilet roll to manage their periods, rising to one in seven (15%) in London.

As lockdown measures in the UK slowly lift, more than one in six (14%) women worry about going outside while on their periods with the closure of public toilets.

Globally, one in four women and girls do not have access to a decent toilet, depriving them of their human right to sanitation, and a private space 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 less availability of water coupled with increased household needs for hand hygiene means less for menstrual needs.  

In a rapid response survey conducted by the Menstrual Health Alliance among 67 NGOs that manufacture or distribute sanitary products across India and some African nations, 62% reported increased challenges for women to access period products, with one fifth (22%) saying people had been unable to access materials altogether.

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

Thérèse Mahon, Regional South Asia Manager at WaterAid and Co-coordinator for the Global Menstrual Collective, said:
“Periods don’t stop in a pandemic and making sure that you have enough period products to see you through lockdown has been an additional source of stress for many women in the UK. 

“But many women in the countries where WaterAid work do not have clean water or a toilet at home, making managing periods during a lockdown, when families are remaining inside the home together, much more difficult. Additionally, community-based services to supply period products and information to tackle menstrual stigma have been disrupted. 

“WaterAid is calling for this world-changing moment to mark a turning point in which the importance of everyone having clean water, decent sanitation and good hygiene is finally fully recognised as essential for health and gender equality and made a reality.”

In response to the Covid-19 crisis, WaterAid is distributing hygiene kits that include period pads and soap in Pakistan, South Africa, and Madagascar. 

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 radio dramas that are being broadcast on community radio station Radio Ishingiro, reaching up to four million people.


Download photos
For more information, please contact:
Ekene Oboko, Senior Press Officer, [email protected];
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