The Covid-19 pandemic has plunged the whole world into survival mode, economies are crashing, both at a macro, country level, and at a micro, household level. At times like this, issues that are not openly discussed such periods get easily overlooked or neglected, and this can leave women and girls in a desperate situation.
There are vulnerable women in every society, where the lack of affordability or access to period products causes extreme distress; where in many situations, cultural taboos around menstruation are used like a weapon against them. Women are often their own worst enemies, having never firmly and positively asserted their human rights in this regard. This lack of conviction or confidence has inadvertently helped to create or reinforce the culture of keeping quiet about periods. As a result, women are suffering, from boardrooms, to classrooms and front rooms, there are women and girls who are too embarrassed or afraid to say that they need sanitary pads or tampons. During lockdown, women and girls who had previously depended on the safety net of free sanitary pads at school or at work, now have this additional problem alongside all of the obvious worries.
Through the Gift Wellness Foundation, across Britain, we’re working hard to make sure that no woman is left without period products during the Covid-19 crisis. It isn’t an easy job, especially in some closed communities, within deprived inner cities or remote rural parts of the country.
At this stressful time, the main bread-winner of the family may be out of work, and during lockdown, when only one person will be going out to do the shopping, the basic essentials that are important for safeguarding the dignity of women and girls are often left off the list. Some groups are particularly vulnerable. Women from BME (Black, Minority, Ethnic) communities describe to us that money is a problem, however the lack of access to sanitary products is the main challenge. “It’s just not the sort of conversation that we have in our house, it is a cultural taboo; and with the physical restrictions on going out to buy pads ourselves, we just have to make do somehow”; explained a woman from an Asian family in the Midlands. She told us how ‘making do’, could mean using old socks or folded tissues as makeshift sanitary pads, and wearing dark clothes that will hide the stains from any leaks.
We regularly send sanitary products to women in refugee camps in Syria, Jordan and Bangladesh, where women have no choice but to resort to tearing strips of the bottom of their dresses to fold up and use as pads. But it is hard to imagine that in Britain, where basic human rights are a presupposed part of tradition and social norms; women are driven to take such measures.
The good news is that thousands of volunteers have mobilised in most towns and cities across the country, to help supply essential food and products to those that are hardest to reach. In our hometown of Derby several new Covid-19 crisis related voluntary groups have assembled. Made up of compassionate local small business owners and workers, whose businesses are currently closed, they have organised street coordinators and supply delivery teams to cover the deprived neighbourhoods. We’re in touch with these new groups, as well as our existing local partner organisations; which include women’s domestic violence refuge centres, refugee organisations, foodbanks and homeless charities, to supply sanitary pads where they’re most needed.
Gift Wellness is a social enterprise, which has been supplying sanitary pads to women in crisis for almost seven years now, through their Buy1-Gift1 scheme. Each time a customer buys a pack of their non-toxic sanitary products, they donate pads to women who cannot afford or access them. To support and further meet the demands of this cause, The Gift Wellness Foundation was established in 2019 as a registered charity. This has enabled us to receive donations and fundraise to provide even more sanitary products to women in desperate need. Thanks to our supporters, we have donated approximately 5.2million sanitary pads so far. As well as supplying sanitary products we are working to raise awareness about these issues. It is high time that the conversation around periods was normalised and taught properly in school from primary school, which is where many girls start their periods. How horrifying it must be for a girl to start menstruating and not know what is happening to her.
There are currently an unprecedented 35 million women and girls around the world who are on the move; displaced, refugees or seeking asylum. In addition, are the women who are not displaced or homeless, but for a variety of reasons, unable to obtain these essential products. As we work to safeguard the wellbeing of our families during this difficult time, we must also be considerate of the indisputable fact that women’s periods don’t pause for pandemics.