Menstrual hygiene needs – Awareness, dignity and empathy

In response to the unprecedented situation due to COVID-19 pandemic, Safety Monitor Research Foundation (SMRF) decided to do its bit for the community. When economic uncertainties and lockdown deprived access to menstrual hygiene products, government schemes for MHM came to an abrupt stop. The tendency to compromise such priorities is potentially high in women during such times. Therefore, SMRF wanted to distribute this essential item for women. This article is an attempt to present the experience of SMRF in implementing this project in Bengaluru. SMRF conducts research on various aspects of feminine hygiene products which includes product safety assessments, product health experience, menstrual product policy advocacy, standard recommendations and sustainable menstruation awareness sessions.

Menstrual Hygiene

Various studies and our in-house health research survey suggests consistently that menstruating women are under stress during their periods. SMRF survey showed 1 in 4 women experience mood swings, 1 in 7 women experience depression and 1 in 11 women experience both.  Access to menstrual products of their choice and personal hygiene products is limited in the current situation which can further add stress both mentally and physically on menstruating women. MHM kits are important for women’s health to avoid urogenital and reproductive tract infections which can lead to serious complications. Often, menstrual hygiene management needs are ignored during emergency situations since women hesitate to voice these concerns. SMRF strongly believes addressing these often ignored “silent needs” will result in a positive impact on women with low economic and poor living conditions during these extraordinary times.

Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Kit – The search began….

SMRF designed an MHM kit based on the recommendations put forward by reputed agencies such as UNICEF, UNFPA, WaterAid etc. Support provided by various organisations for the ration essentials was encouraging which led us to believe that getting funds for this cause should be easy! To add on, the project will cover UN’s sustainable development goals 1, 3, 5 and 6. Therefore, we called out via social media, emails, phone to various organisations and requested to take this as a CSR activity.

After three weeks of rigorous search for funds we could not get a breakthrough! Therefore, we approached NGO’s or organisations working in the menstrual hygiene advocacy or MH product space and finally got a start.

Organisations and fund “Matters” – The observations

The observations reported here are purely based on our experiences. Majority of the organisations that we approached did not resonate a similar enthusiasm that they showed towards rations /grocery relief. However, organisations that were working in menstrual hygiene sector immediately recognised the need and helped us with various resources and connects. Our experiences during this fund search made us feel that there is a lack of awareness and empathy towards these “silent needs”. Therefore, our humble attempt here is to make it “loud and clear” that menstrual hygiene and sanitation projects are important for women’s health. Our experiences show that such discussions have been happening only in relevant groups and this needs to be extended to a wider audience via CSR programs.

MHM Kit – We did it!

SMRF with the help of Helping Hands (a volunteer group in Bangalore) has donated MHM kits containing disposable/ reusable pads, soap, detergent and cloth mask to 250 plus women till date. Thanks to our donors Real Relief Safe PadTM, Aarogya Seva and Rejuvenate India Movement for providing reusable pads, disposable pads and cloth masks to SMRF.

 

Helping Hands volunteer group carried out a crowd funding initiative for soap and detergent. With the support of donors, a kit that almost met the guidelines was made for the women.

Ground observations

Majority of the women were happy and surprised to receive these kits. There were initial hesitations in discussing the topic with some women while some used the opportunity to clarify their doubts. Cloth users were happy to hear that their management methods are healthy, ecofriendly and safe. These women were briefed about basic hygiene practices such as regular changing, washing and drying the cloth in sunlight and discarding the cloth when they feel it’s not clean or old.

A large number of women used reusable products only in situations when they cannot afford to buy disposable pads. However, we noted majority of women do not have access to clean washroom facilities and appropriate pad disposal conditions. Much work is needed in providing basic amenities such as toilets, private space, clean water, regular garbage pickup and disposal. Lockdown has halted the free distribution of pads at government schools which left many kids without this essential supply. These kids were very happy and relieved to receive them.

Pad counters were made available at train ticket processing centres in Bangalore for our worker friends’ women folks. These women take 3 to 5 days to reach their destination and they were happy to receive these pads. SMRF was happy to be part of an activity that lessened the stress and made a small difference in women’s health during these extraordinary times.

Conclusions

Menstrual hygiene was categorised as an essential item on paper but the ground reality was different – disruption of free distribution chain, unavailability of stocks and lack of sanitation infrastructure. Poor visibility of MHM in the context of sustainable development goals was felt during the fund-raising attempts and in terms of sanitation facilities provided by the communities.

SMRF would request all readers to be helpful and resourceful to women who are in need of such resources. We hope to see corporates supporting MHM initiatives as CSR projects in future.