Coronavirus is making periods worse for girls and women

28 MAY 2020

Severe shortages of products, a sharp rise in prices of pads and tampons and lack of access to basic information and services about menstrual hygiene management is leaving girls and women worldwide struggling to manage their periods during COVID-19 lockdowns.

The alarming findings have emerged from a survey carried out by Plan International in 30 countries.

A total of 61 Plan International professionals working in the field of menstrual hygiene management, water, sanitation and hygiene, and sexual and reproductive health and rights were surveyed. The research is being released today in the new Periods in a Pandemic report to mark the World Menstrual Hygiene Day.

Managing periods has become harder

“From Kenya to Nepal, Australia, Ireland and Cambodia, COVID-19 lockdowns are causing big problems for people who menstruate. Periods don’t stop during a pandemic, but managing them safely and with dignity has become a whole lot harder,” said Dr Rosamund Ebdon, Plan International’s Head of Policy. 

Stigma and shame associated with menstruation is on the rise

“Plan International’s experts working on the frontline of menstrual hygiene management have reported serious and widespread issues. In particular, they are finding it difficult to source products, have reported intentional inflation of prices, and serious issues with sanitation and reliable access to information. In many countries, period products have become scarce and vulnerable girls and young women, in particular are going without. “

“In some cases, stigma and shame associated with menstruation is on the rise, as girls have no other option but to use unsafe alternatives and being confined to their homes, are no longer afforded privacy.”

“When sanitary products are hard to obtain, it means people might resort to using unhygienic alternatives that can increase their risk of reproductive and urinary tract infections. These issues existed before the pandemic, but we know that this virus is making the situation worse.”

Key findings from the Periods in a Pandemic report: 

Have you observed the following as a result of COVID-19?Yes
Restricted access to products, through shortages or disrupted supply chains73%
Restricted access to facilities to help change, clean and dispose of sanitary products68%
An increase in price of products58%
Lack of access to information and services54%
Reduced access to clean water to manage periods 51%
A less hygienic environment for disposal of products 47%
Increased stigma, shaming or harmful cultural practices24%

Product shortages are affecting girls’ safety and dignity

The number one issue reported was product shortages, as global supply chains are disrupted and smaller scale private sector enterprises cease trading, deliveries of goods has slowed, particularly in remote areas. 

The number one issue reported was product shortages, as global supply chains are disrupted

Many of those surveyed also reported a significant increase in price of products as supply chains are disrupted and panic buying stripped the shelves of products. 

“This lack of access to safe sanitary products during COVID-19 poses a real threat to the health and safety of people that menstruate. It’s true that products have become more expensive during the pandemic. In some cases, the prices have been opportunistically inflated to meet demand.”

“Not only have prices increased, but with the pandemic significantly affecting livelihoods and household incomes, people have less money to buy sanitary products than before the COVID-19 pandemic began, even when products are available.” said Dr Ebdon.

Governments and health agencies must support girls

Two-thirds (68%) of the professionals surveyed reported access to facilities to help girls manage their periods has been disrupted.  

“A lack of access to clean water to wash, toilets with doors for privacy and difficulty disposing of used products are some examples of the challenges that people face in managing their menstrual hygiene in a private, safe and dignified manner.”

Plan International is calling on governments and health agencies to urgently assist girls, women and people who menstruate to manage their periods safely and with dignity. 

“Menstrual health and hygiene management must be built into COVID-19 health responses and whilst lockdowns continue, it should be built into remote learning curriculums,” said Dr Ebdon.

“We know that people with disabilities and people from marginalised communities, like refugees for example, are more profoundly impacted by these issues, so their menstrual health and hygiene must be prioritised in responses to the pandemic.”