Period poverty and street harassment – how lockdown has made these worse than ever

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  • The pandemic has seen pre-existing challenges worsen for millions of women and girls. From India to Togo, 15 women from across the world share their new normal

    ‘The day lockdown was announced, I was on the first day of my period,’ says 20-year-old Sajju from Nepal. ‘I raced to the nearby shop as I was worried there would be shortages of sanitary napkins as well as food.’

    The pandemic has exacerbated many inequalities in our pre-COVID lives, but, according to a new study by Plan International UK, there are millions of women and girls across the world at greater risk of period poverty and street harassment.

    Plan International estimate there are 743 million girls currently out of education across the globe, and with lockdown restrictions keeping them at home, as many as 30% have limited or no access to period provision. Rose Caldwell, CEO of Plan International, said that while we’ve heard much conversation about toilet paper supplies throughout the pandemic, far less has been mentioned about girls and women going without period products. ‘Lockdown has exacerbated the already prevalent problem of period poverty in the UK, and we have heard from girls we work with from Kenya to Nepal that this is being reflected across the globe.

    ‘As we look to an uncertain future, more young women than ever are likely to face issues affording the products they need. We must commit to ensuring they are supported with free access to products, receive timely education on periods and feel able to talk about the issues they face without fear of shame or stigma.’

    As for the rising tide of unchecked street harassment, Atlanta, an 18 year-old key worker from the UK, revealed her fear of working to work and also taking her daily hour of exercise, where unsolicited stares from men are all the more tricky to ignore on empty streets. ‘I never really felt safe exercising outside my house, but during the lockdown I’m increasingly aware of the looks I get from men, especially when I’m wearing my gym shorts.’

    As the pandemic continues to put all our lives on hold, it’s hardly surprising that anxiety levels are high among women worldwide. Plan International’s study also uncovered one group feeling the brunt of the pandemic keenly, young women with disabilities, who need round-the-clock care. This type of care makes social distancing impossible – putting them at risk of contracting COVID-19.

    Aimee, a 24-year-old from Togo, is wheelchair bound and relies on various care-workers. ‘I rely on other people to help me eat and drink, says Aimee. ‘I don’t know if that person is infected or not. If they have the virus it’s very easy to pass it on to me.’ Aimee is a high-risk case but she’s far from alone with her worries and life-changing concerns.

    ‘Right now I feel very uncertain about what’s coming next’, says 20 year-old Fatima from the USA. ‘I’m worried about my family’s health. I’m worried about internships, scholarships and opportunities to study abroad.’

    Speaking to fifteen young women in countries ranging from Liberia to Finland, we shine a light on the individual challenges each woman faces during the pandemic. Here, they share their stories, as well as messages of hope for their global sisters in lockdown.

    For more information on Plan International’s work, see plan-international.org

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