Saturday Specials: Lockdown sparked sanitary pad crisis, India back to ground zero?

The lengthy nation-wide Lockdown had compromised the menstrual hygiene of economically unstable and rural women. Units that are engaged in making affordable sanitary pads were forced to keep their shutters down. Many faced disturbance due to the supply of raw materials that was cut off. This had led to a rise in shortage of affordable sanitary napkins across the country, encouraging many women to adopt unhygienic methods of managing their period.

Affordable sanitary pads are mostly made by the rural sector units that are run with a few labours, mostly women, with the support of non-governmental organisations. The Union government had announced sanitary pads as essential goods only after 15 days of Lockdown. Those operating the units said that the government’s order does not help them run their units.

Arunachalam Muruganantham, commonly known as Padman, said his factories in Coimbatore that manufacture the machine for making affordable pads are idling due to the Lockdown. He was not getting raw materials used in making the sanitary pads released from the Chennai port. “The material is sitting in containers at the port and I am paying large amount as demurrage charges on it,” he said.

The imported raw materials are processed at his unit and then sent to thousands of small units across the country to make the sanitary napkins. He said that he has not been able to send labours to any units where the machinery needs repairs.

Pratibha Singh, who runs an NGO in Sultanpur, Uttar Pradesh, told that her unit was running out of raw materials. Her NGO, Kshitij Education and Rural Development, has two pad making machine and was due to get a quarterly supply of raw materials. With the Lockdown being imposed, she has not got the supply. She is not keen to source the raw materials from other suppliers, as they do not offer the same quality of cotton filling.

Vatsalya Foundation, an NGO in Gujrat faced some serious issues. Sakshi Dodhiya, an employee in the foundation that makes sanitary pads at affordable rates said, they had to take sanitary napkins on loan. They had no money to afford the cheap sanitary pads.

“There is a lot of demand for affordable pads. I have received a few enquiries,” says Deepali Bhardwaj, a practising dermatologist. An NGO Deepanjan Charitable Trust, had installed pad making machines invented by Muruganantham in Delhi and Dehradun. The Delhi unit continued to operate, with one person, who stayed at the premises. The Dehradun unit had been idling since the Lockdown was imposed.

This is not only the case in India. Women in Fiji, the USUK and other parts of the world have also reported supply shortages and hiked up prices for menstrual products.

At a time when people are facing the pandemic, the shortage of Sanitary Napkins made an alarming situation across the country. If the women do not get pads for two months, they will go back to unhygienic practices. It will affect their health. India has fought a long war on the Sanitary Napkin and Menstrual hygiene front. Breaking the silence around periods is the key to a future where there is “period equity”. Every woman in every situation, pandemic or not, has the ability to hygienically and sustainably manage her periods.

Current situation:

The shortage of pads has influenced women across India and more seriously in semi-urban and rural areas. Millions of labours especially in the informal sectors including daily wage earners, migrant workers, domestic helpers, and several others lost their jobs in the Lockdown. They could not even afford to buy food or other essential items like sanitary pads, masks, sanitizers.

Women in these families have had to settle to using old cloth and rags. NGOs working for issues related to women’s health and hygiene raised funds and distributed sanitary napkin packs after the industry resumed its work. A few sanitary napkin manufacturers such as the Indian brand Paree also stepped forward to distribute napkins.

Police authorities in cities like Kolkata, Bangalore, Hyderabad, Chandigarh, Jaipur, Bhubaneshwar, etc helped in distributing hygiene kits to the residents of slums as well as stranded migrants. Although these were provided, unavailability of clean water and toilets made it difficult for them to manage their periods.