“Periods don’t stop for pandemics,” says 12-year-old Shweta Kumari, who is short of sanitary napkins because the distribution from her school has either stopped or delayed due to the ongoing lockdown to combat the novel coronavirus.
Kumari is not alone in this, several girl students of classes 6 to 12 who are studying in government schools across the country, narrate similar ordeals.
They are given sanitary napkins every month under the central government’s Kishori Shakti Yojana.
However, distribution of sanitary pads has been disrupted in various states these days as schools are shut due to the lockdown, adding to the woes of students, a majority of who come from lower income group families.
Kumari, who studies at a government school in Haryana’s Kurkshetra, said, “The entire focus has been shifted to distribution of masks and sanitisers and nobody is talking about these basics. It is important to save ourselves from the deadly virus but periods don’t stop for pandemics”.
Geeta, a Class 7 student from Alwar in Rajasthan, said, “Even if we get the money to buy it, it is so difficult to step out for women, especially during the lockdown to buy a sanitary napkin. There is door-to-door distribution of masks happening in my locality but no clue about sanitary napkins.”
Rani Devi, a domestic help in Uttar Pradesh’s Bareilly, who had switched to using sanitary pads two years ago because of her daughter, has to face the similar situation again.
“I always used cloth during periods until two years back, a teacher from my daughter’s school briefed me about the importance of sanitary napkins. My daughter would get it in school and both of us would use it. But now after the lockdown, things are different”, Devi said.
“We are short of money because my husband used to run a small kiosk for street food, which is now out of business due to the lockdown. It is getting difficult to survive with other essentials, sanitary napkins of course do not figure in that list for us,” she added.
Girls in the Delhi government schools are also calling their teachers inquiring about the same. “I have received calls from a few girls as well as their mothers but right now there is no mechanism to ensure delivery of napkins. We have informed higher authorities about the distressed calls,” a Delhi government school teacher said on condition of anonymity.
Surbhi Singh, a gynaecologist and founder of ‘Sachhi Saheli’ NGO that works on menstrual health with the Delhi government in its schools, said they have also approached the AAP government on the matter.
Union minister Smriti Irani had on 29 March tweeted, “Taking note of growing concern regarding availability of sanitary napkins, Home Secretary to Government of India has issued clarification to chief secretaries of all the states regarding sanitary pads being an essential commodity.”
Delhi Cabinet Minister Rajendra Pal Gautam on Tuesday asked the Department of Women and Child Development to explore ways to provide sanitary napkins to women amid the lockdown.
The Rajasthan State Child Rights Commission has initiated an inquiry into the matter after the issue was raised by various stakeholders that sanitary pads were not available to girls due to closure of government schools and anganwadi centres.
“The issue has been brought to my notice that sanitary pads are not available to school-going girls in remote areas as schools are closed due to the lockdown. I have asked officials to inquire into the matter and submit a report to take further action,” Sangeeta Beniwal, chairperson of the Rajasthan State Commission for Protection of Child Rights, said.
The Right to Education (RTE) Forum, a civil society coalition claiming to represent nearly 10,000 organisations across 20 states, has sought intervention of the Ministry of Women and Child Development to ensure “uninterrupted health services, especially for malnourished children, to prevent adverse health conditions during this period”.
“All adolescent girls should continue receiving sanitary napkins, iron folic acid (IFA) and supplementary nutrition under Rajiv Gandhi Scheme for Empowerment of Adolescent Girls (RGSEAG) or Sabla and Rashtriya Kishor Swasthya Karyakram (RKSK) or under Integrated Child Development Scheme (ICDS) or School Health Programme,” it said.
Schools across the country are closed due to the nationwide lockdown to contain the spread of the deadly virus. The lockdown, which was announced on 24 March midnight, has now been extended till 3 May.
The death toll due to COVID-19 rose to 681 and the number of cases to 21,393 in the country on Thursday, according to the Union Health Ministry.
The number of active COVID-19 cases stood at 16,454, while 4,257 people have been cured and discharged, one patient has migrated, it said.
(At The Quint, we are answerable only to our audience. Play an active role in shaping our journalism by becoming a member. Because the truth is worth it.)