Periods in a Pandemic

28 May 2020

How COVID-19 responses are exacerbating challenges for people who menstruate

Water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) are the first line of defence against COVID-19. It’s widely recognised that access to clean, running water and soap for handwashing is a critical need that must be met in our global response to the pandemic, however there are other essential aspects of WASH that should not be forgotten at this time.

Meeting the needs of women and girls is central to an inclusive global response that promotes equality and social inclusion.

On any single day during this health emergency, 800 million diverse women and girls are menstruating and grappling with the unique challenges of doing so in a global pandemic.

Periods don’t stop during a pandemic and for millions of people in the countries that Plan International works in privately and safely managing menstruation and addressing the taboo and stigma associated with it is critical to ensuring their human rights, health  and dignity. As some countries emerge from the peak of the pandemic and restrictions on movement begin to ease, the challenge for millions of people who menstruate continues.

The gendered impacts of COVID-19 are being seen all over the world. Meeting the critical menstrual hygiene management needs of women and girls is central to an inclusive global response that promotes equality and social inclusion.

This report looks at how the current implications of COVID-19 is exacerbating key challenges for people who menstruate around the world and provides recommendations on how to include menstrual hygiene management (MHM) within a COVID-19 response.

Experts speak out about COVID-19 and menstrual hygiene management

To gain a deeper understanding of the specific problems COVID-19 has posed for managing menstrual health and hygiene, Plan International conducted an online survey exclusively for professionals who work in the WASH and Sexual Reproductive Health Rights (SRHR) fields across the Plan International federation.

The online survey was live from 11 May to 17 May 2020 and attracted 61 responses from professionals working in 24 countries.

The number leading concerns about the impact of COVID-19 on menstrual hygiene management amongst Plan International’s professionals who took this survey were:

  1. 81% were concerned people who menstruate would not be supported to meet their menstrual hygiene management (MHM) needs
  2. 78% worried the pandemic would further limit freedom of movement; and
  3. 75% said COVID-19 may pose increased health risks for people who menstruate, as resources, such as water, are diverted to other needs.

In addition to the WASH professionals’ survey, a second survey for people who menstruate was distributed across Australia, Ireland, Fiji, the Solomon Islands, Papua New Guinea, Indonesia and Vanuatu, to provide further evidence. 

While these samples are not statistically significant, and the data is not weighted, qualitative evidence from these participants has been included in this report in the form of quotes and – where possible – percentage of respondents per country who indicated an issue.

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Emergencies, Sexual and reproductive health and rights, COVID-19, Menstruation, Water and sanitation