You are here

Period Poverty & Pandemics: a double curse

By Andrea M. Wojnar, Resident Representative, UNFPA Mozambique

Menstruation should be a normal, healthy part of a female’s life but for many girls and young women across the globe, menstruation can be a monthly struggle. Before the pandemic, more than 500 million women and girls worldwide lacked the necessary means to manage their menstrual cycle aka “period poverty”, which creates barriers to health, education and success opportunities.

These difficulties are compounded by humanitarian emergencies, such as cyclones and pandemics, both of which have negatively impacted vulnerable women and girls in Mozambique, a country that is working to flatten the curve of COVID-19 while recovering from two massive cyclones that devastated the north-central regions of the country last year and from which people are still struggling to recover. 

COVID-19 has aggravated pre-existing inequalities, discrimination and marginalisation of women and girls in multiple ways. The pandemic and the response to it has made access to water, sanitation and menstrual products more difficult due to stay at home - “fica em casa” restrictions, a loss of income, and a limited or lack of availability of stocks, particularly for women and girls living in poor and marginalised communities, displaced persons‘ resettlement areas, and those with special needs or disabilities (UNICEF, 2020).

Amidst these challenges, something as natural as a monthly period that is experienced by half of the world’s population should not add to the burden of stress, nor bring with it shame, health complications or stigma.


Items contained in dignity kits distributed by Government of Mozambique 
©Alexandre Muianga/UNFPA Mozambique

Fátima Hassan, a 16-year-old teenager, fled last month to Pemba City with her mother to escape from violent attacks. Now living in a safe place, she was one of 300 women and girls who took part in a COVID-19 prevention and control session and received a female ‘dignity kit’. These kits, containing hygiene and protection items - ranging from washable menstruation pads and underwear to whistles and lights - not only support a woman or girl's personal health and safety, but also help to mitigate risks of gender-based violence (GBV), as they contain information on GBV services, including where and how to access support. Field research on dignity kits has found that the value of the kits is more than just material items; they not only help to promote the health and well-being of a woman or girl, but they bring back self-dignity - a personal attribute that is vital in times of crisis.

With restrictions on movement, menstruating girls and women may lack access or financial means to purchase basic materials to manage their periods, or have limited privacy where toilets are unavailable. Without proper menstrual hygiene in place, particularly in warm, humid climates throughout Mozambique, girls and women are at greater risk of infections with impacts on their physical and mental health and well-being.

In response, the Government of Mozambique, supported by UNFPA, the United Nations Population Fund, has provided dignity kits to more than 16,500 women and girls (since April 2019) who have been impacted by the 2019 Cyclones and are now facing the impact of the pandemic. For Fátima, the dignity kit she received came at a perfect time as she contemplated how she was going to get menstrual pads when her mother now had no steady income. 

According to Fátima, the reusable pads in the kits are very important as she will no longer need to worry about managing her menstrual cycle. Fátima says she will now be able to leave her house and no longer worry about finding money to buy menstrual hygiene products. How simple, but revolutionary!

Adapting to the challenges of COVID-19, and limitations on movement and procurement of material, UNFPA and partners will pilot a new project distributing mobile phone e-vouchers to women and girls, so they can purchase their own sanitary and menstrual hygiene materials. Initially, 5,000 women and girls within 3 provinces will receive the e-vouchers, with the aim to scale-up over the coming months.


16-year old Fátima Hassan, shares her experience with menstrual hygiene
in times of crisis ©Alexandre Muianga/UNFPA Mozambique

“These kits really are dignity kits because they give girls, like me, who have lost everything, a sense of protection. To me, dignity also means freedom,” shares the teenager. 

As Fátima’s story shows, issues related to gender inequality, poverty and humanitarian crisis can turn moments of menstruation into a time of deprivation, struggle, and stigma. However, something like a menstruation pad, soap and underwear, coupled with information, resources and support, provides a bit of freedom, choice and self-care, which is of huge significance for vulnerable women and girls, not only in Mozambique but across the world. 

As we work together to respond to COVID-19 and celebrate “Menstrual Hygiene Day” 2020, let’s remember that periods don’t stop for pandemics. Let’s continue to uphold the rights of women and girls and remember that something as natural as a monthly period and the need for continued menstrual hygiene should never be compromised, but rather met with privacy, comfort, normalcy and dignity.