During the COVID-19 pandemic, women in India faced irregular gaps in their menstrual cycle due to coronavirus, bringing everyday stress and anxiety for them, as per the findings of a new study.
The 6th annual Menstrual Hygiene Survey by Everteen, a feminine hygiene brand, released on the eve of Menstrual Hygiene Day 2021, which is observed annually on May 28, was conducted on nearly 5000 women in the age group of 18 to 35 years from Delhi, Mumbai, Bangalore, Hyderabad, and Kolkata.
Among other aspects of menstrual hygiene, this year’s survey specifically aimed to gauge the impact of COVID-19 and lockdown in India on periods in women. The survey revealed that more than 41 per cent of women experienced an unusually irregular gap in their periods. This is startling because only 13.7 per cent of women who participated in the survey said they were infected with COVID-19.
As many as 64.5 per cent of women said that the current COVID times had impacted their stress and anxiety levels, which could be a possible reason for irregularity in the gap between two menstrual periods in so many women.
Out of all the women who participated in the survey, 34.2 per cent, or more than one-third, said that they even noticed a change in intensity of menstrual flow, while 20 per cent of women said they missed their menstrual period at least once during this COVID phase. 29.2 per cent of women respondents claimed that they had more painful periods during COVID time than normal, while 28.8 per cent of women said that they noticed an unusual amount of clots in blood during the menstrual period.
Speaking about this year’s survey, Chirag Pan, CEO of PAN Healthcare, said, “Menstrual periods in women are often ignored in the larger socio-economic fabric of our society in general. There is an acute need for the research community to study this aspect of menstrual health during COVID-19 on a much wider scale in India and globally.”Saying that governments need to increase the accessibility of sanitary products, he added, “Another significant takeaway from this year’s everteen Menstrual Hygiene Survey is that the governments need to devise effective interventions to make sanitary products easily accessible to women all over India. Our survey found that almost one in every four women faced problems getting sanitary essentials during lockdown.”
A disturbing finding was that 26.6 per cent of women did nothing about irregularity in their menstrual cycle dates, while another 35.4 per cent of women only discussed it with their mother or friends.
Just 38 per cent of women chose to consult a doctor to evaluate why their menstrual cycle date was irregular. Similarly, 58.1 per cent of women said they had suffered from white discharge at some point in their menstruating life, but only 25.5 per cent of women consulted a doctor.
38.1 per cent of women said that when they got their first menstrual period, they did not know what it exactly was, and in fact, 36 per cent of women thought that it was some injury or disease. 79.8 per cent of women still preferred to discuss their first period with their mother. These findings again highlight a need to create a more holistic IEC model to shift society’s perceptions of menstruation.
Period cramps, cloth staining, and changing pads emerged as the top three concerns for women at 35.3 per cent, 30.8 per cent and 30.1 per cent respectively. Over 80 per cent of women admitted they had experienced staining during their periods. More than two-thirds of all women, 67.7 per cent to be exact, felt that girls avoid participating in sports or outdoor activities during their periods.
These findings highlight a need for awareness and adoption of modern menstrual hygiene methods (MHM) such as menstrual cups in India.
Hariom Tyagi, CEO of Wet and Dry Personal Care, the maker of everteen, and a PAN Heath initiative, spoke about how women are more comfortable today in buying sanitary products, “This year’s everteen Menstrual Hygiene Survey also has some very encouraging findings. For example, as many as 56.2 per cent women said that they buy sanitary products freely from a chemist or a shop, which shows that women are shedding their inhibitions and guilt on the subject.”
Talking about the need to increase awareness regarding the subject, he continued, “However, another 43.8 per cent of women still feel uncomfortable while buying such products from a shop, either always or in the presence of a lot of customers. So, there is still a need to create even more awareness and acceptance on this subject in our society. It is also reassuring to note that one in four women feel free to roam out of home as usual even during periods.”
Among other findings, the survey showed that 90.9 per cent of women still prefer to use sanitary napkins in India, while 7.3 per cent of women have switched to menstrual cups followed by 1 per cent tampon users.
In line with the trend in recent years, this year’s survey showed that menstrual hygiene continues to shed its taboo image and is moving towards becoming a mainstream subject in Indian society. As many as 52.9 per cent of women felt that menstruation is perceived as a positive or neutral subject in India.
However, nearly 36 per cent of women said that it was still considered taboo. Sharing their personal experiences, 58.1 per cent of women said that they took it positively, while 1 per cent still found it a nuisance. A growing 16.8 per cent of women felt that there is no difference in perceptions about menstruation among men and women, although a majority 58 per cent still felt there was a difference in perceptions on the subject.
A healthy 40.2 per cent women said that men in the Indian society are able to relate to this natural process of the menstrual cycle, while another 48 per cent said that while men understand it, they are not able to relate to it fully.
64.4 per cent of women still feel cautious about hygiene and sanitation at public toilets in offices, malls and cinema halls, and said that they have rarely or never used them for changing sanitary products during periods. 74.5 per cent of women felt uncomfortable if they had to use a public toilet for such purposes.
Everteen has been conducting these annual Menstrual Hygiene Surveys since 2014. As a pioneer in complete feminine intimate hygiene, it has also been actively creating awareness on feminine and menstrual hygiene through numerous campaigns such as #FixYourPeriods and #SheNeedsPad.