While many things have stopped for girls during the pandemic, their periods have not. TEGAs report what it is like to deal with their menstrual health and hygiene during lockdown, and any work-arounds or compromises they have had to make. Not all geographies discuss this issue to the same extent, with girls in India being the most likely to talk about their periods.
The biggest barrier to maintaining menstrual hygiene that has come out of the digital diaries is access to menstrual products. In India Shiyona’s father owns a grocery store which has allowed her a reliable supply of pads, but she worries about dwindling stocks. Others struggle with access because they are limited in how much they can go out. Saizya in Bangladesh describes an evening when she ran out of sanitary pads. Habiba from Nigeria has to make sure she buys her sanitary pads on the days she is allowed to go out (in Kano, the lockdown allows shopping only on certain days). Softy from India explains her issues around access:
“Sanitary napkins which are a very very essential thing are not available easily. There are many girls who don’t use cloth pads as they are scared of infection. Because of such things we had many problems. Even I faced this issue. I could not get sanitary napkins and have been using cloth pads for the last two months. This is very troubling. The second issue is about getting medication. Sometimes I need to use pain killers and now at this time I am really scared to go to the pharmacy. We are not permitted to go out as my father says that pharmacies remain crowded and many people come there also from outside the village.”
In the US, Sofia has been unable to get the medical help she sometimes needs to cope with her periods:
“I had to go to the doctors and stuff like that to help me, and now it is kind of put at halt because I can’t really go there.”
Carol in India had issues of both access and overcoming embarrassment when she had to reach out to her brother for help:
“During the first month of lockdown I was not aware of which shops were open and which shops were closed. So at that time when my period came, I did not have sanitary pads. And since I don’t use cloth pads, I was confused about what to do and from where I should procure them. Then I asked my brother to check which shops are open. And then I told him that I require pads and asked him to buy them for me if the shops were open. I was also hesitating while asking him. I was wondering what he might think or say to me. I was also worried about whether shops were open or not. I was scared but at last I asked him and he brought it.”
The use of cloth pads instead of disposable ones during lockdown has been spoken about by a number of girls, with some of the reasons for this change being financially driven. As Merci from Malawi explains:
“Challenges that are affecting me when I am on my period, before COVID-19, we got used to using sanitary pads. Once we use those pads, we throw them away. Now at home they have bought me these pads that we wash. We are not used to these, they are small such that when the period is heavy, it may flow out onto our clothes. We are uncomfortable when using these pads, Currently we do not have money at home for them to buy me sanitary pads, rather they just thought of buying these which we can wash after using and reuse until COVID-19 ends.”
On an emotional level, girls are already having extreme highs and lows through this period of stress and uncertainty, as Shiyona from India points out:
“There is nothing fixed about mood, it is not like we are chilling all the time. Sometimes we get tense, sometimes normal and sometimes we get in a weird mood.”
With all of the emotions that TEGAs report feeling through lockdown, the added effect of premenstrual tension (PMT) is pointed out as by Marisol from the US:
“I have been highly emotional and on my period it just kind of feels like everything is ten times worse so just the intensity of some of these feelings especially during a time like this can be a challenge.”
While most of the insights girls have provided about coping with periods have been negative, Carol from India provides a positive impact that having to stay at home has had:
“As compared to other days now my period days have changed quite a lot. Before because I had to go out to work even during periods, there used to be a lot of trouble. I could not take leave and needed to struggle on during periods too. I had to attend to many chores and go here and there. And now I am feeling better during periods as I have less work to do. And now I am feeling better physically. There is less physical work and tiredness.”
Managing menstrual hygiene was already a challenging issue for girls across these geographies. The compounding effect of the pandemic on access to supplies and services has often been unwelcome. While it may not be the issue at the top of their minds, both physical and financial barriers to girls menstrual management have added to the list of challenges they have to deal with.