Arti, a 23-year-old from Jharkhand is waiting for the lockdown to be eased so that she can have access to sanitary napkins. She lives in a small village called Jonha, around 35 kilometres from Ranchi, and is one of 3700 female residents of the Jonha panchayat. The women and girls of menstruating age in this village have resorted to using leaves, petticoats and hay during their periods because they have run out of sanitary supplies. Arti, who loves to paint Madhubani art, tells SheThePeople.TV that if the lockdown persists and the supply of sanitary napkins etc doesn’t resume, women and girls on their periods will have to resort to sitting on the husk of rice to contain the bleeding.
While the government is providing us with food and other essentials, no one thought about sanitary napkins, that every woman needs on a monthly basis.
On 29 March, four days after the coronavirus lockdown was put into effect, Smriti Irani clarified in a tweet that sanitary pads were to be listed as one of the essential commodities, which were to be made available to all consumers at a fair price. Essential commodities include groceries and medicines, and while sanitary napkins were put on this list, procuring them has been a struggle. One of my colleagues tried to buy sanitary products during the start of lockdown via Amazon only to be informed that their delivery will take over 40 days. Which means you have to predict your period dates for the coming few months to be prepared and book the delivery in advance. Or worse, hoard them and leave other women vulnerable. But what does one do if they live at a place where they have no access to online delivery? Where all local grocery shops have closed and you are dependant on the supply of essential goods from authorities, only that while your atta, dal and chawal arrive in the relief packages, but pads or menstrual cups don’t? As Rashmi Tiwari of Ahaan Foundation points out, “Ration is patriarchal as well. It is being provided keeping men’s needs in mind, not women.”
Tiwari’s organisation works with girls of Jharkhand state, who are at the risk of human trafficking. She says that women in Jharkhand lead a very arduous life. “Women there go to work in the farms, do household chores, there is no potable water so they have to go and fetch that as well. Periods won’t stop in lockdown, it will happen.”
Tiwari recalls interacting with a girl who had used her petticoat during periods in place of sanitary pads, and since she didn’t have many clothes, she had to wear her saree without it and then wrap a towel around, to secure it. “She had survived this month, but what will happen the next month?” Being based in Delhi Tiwari managed to send a consignment of 1200 pads to Jonha, but that wasn’t enough. Arti, her point of contact in the village and other girls have now gone back to traditional ways of dealing with menstruation.
“While the government is providing us with food and other essentials, no one thought about sanitary napkins, that every woman needs on a monthly basis. All the shops in the village are shut, as a result of which we have gone back to using, leaves, cuttings from petticoats etc., during periods, says Arti, who informs us that due to this women are unable to go to the nearby pond or wells in order to take a bath.
So far no women or girls have incurred any health problems due to lack of sanitary supplies, but Arti believes that this isn’t inevitable. Despite the lack of amnesties, there is no respite to these women when it comes to daily chores. They have to go about their daily routine, cooking, cleaning the house, fetching drinking water etc using leaves to contain the menstrual bleeding.
The Global Nutrition Report 2017, 51 percent of all women of reproductive age in India have anaemia, which is a very alarming figure. However, in such testing times, such a concerning health condition is being seen as a boon by these girls. “Tribal girls are usually anaemic, because of which they experience less bleeding during menstruation. If we go on to experience menstrual bleeding like urban girls then most of us would land in the hospital," says Arti, who also runs a library for young girls and boys in her village.
Using a cloth during periods may come across as a normal practice to many, which is quite prevalent even today. But you have to remember that these women don’t have many clothes to begin with. If the lockdown gets further extended they will have to continue risking their health by using traditional methods as an absorbent during periods. “After girls are done with their household chores, they rarely step out. Earlier when sanitary napkins etc were not available they would sit on top of a heap of rice husk which absorbs all the blood. So I guess we will be going back to that practice if pads are not made available to us,” says Arti.
Tribal girls are usually anaemic, because of which they experience less bleeding during menstruation. If we go on to experience menstrual bleeding like urban girls then most of us would land in the hospital.
But apart from limiting their mobility, use of outdated techniques to mange period bleeding also poses as a health risk. The nearest hospital to Jonha is some eight kilometres away. There is an anganbadi which is five kilometres from the village, but it is shut due to the pandemic. Since most public transport remains shut under the lockdown, it means that if ever a serious health problem arises, these women and girls may have to walk their way to the hospital if they fail to find a mode of transportation. Keep in mind that this is a village that has some accessibility to the city of Ranchi. As per Rashmi the situation is much worse in villages in interior districts such as Latehar, where people do not have access to groceries and ration easily right now, let along sanitary pads or menstrual cups.
It has been two months since women of Jonha run out of sanitary pads. With the doubling rate of coronavirus still at 12.2 days, the lockdown is far from over. Even if activity resumes in green zones of the country, one wonders, who is concerned about the wellbeing of women in this little village from Jharkhand? And of many such villages around the country? Who cares if they have access to sanitary supplies or not? Where are the Amazon deliveries for these women? It has taken generations for women to move from using leaves and husk to pads and menstrual cups and all it took was one lockdown to take these women centuries back. Access to basic sanitary products is their right. It is essential for their health, well-being and mobility. Their lives could be better, if we care a little about them.