Women and young girls of reproductive age affected by the recent flooding are having a harder time than anyone can imagine.
Menstruation is a physiological phenomenon that does not retract for a storm or a flood for that matter. This leaves women and young girls of reproductive age most vulnerable in the face of a disaster or emergency.
Menstruation or periods or “the monthly thing that must not be named” – whatever you choose to call it or not call it – is a biological phenomenon that women go through. Despite all the nuances around the topic and insensitive mockery at the emotional fluctuation around Post Menstrual Stress, the fact is; it is painful (the period as well as the bad humour) and a physically and emotionally taxing experience that women endure despite work, labour, dishes, cooking, living in general.
While the physical and psychological stress accompanying the monthly cycle are very much real, women whether at home or at the workplace are expected to carry on seamlessly without any complaints because it is unprofessional to succumb to natural hormonal ups and downs, but professional to capitulate under unrealistic expectations.
Emergency and disaster situations thrust women into exceptionally compromised scenarios. There is lack of availability and access to clean menstrual hygiene products (MHPs). Additionally, women displaced as a result of disasters suffer lack of privacy as well, risk exposure to unsanitary conditions and prolonged use of MHPs. This further builds up the risk of toxic shock syndrome and urinary tract infections in addition to the infectious disease outbreaks feared most in the aftermath of the floods.
No one is asking to make this a topic for drawing room discussions; we have plenty of politics to obsess over. Yet it must be brought up and considered mannerly in times of need, such as this one
Pregnant women and nursing mothers go through similar trials in the time of disasters and displacement. Onset of labour, again, is a natural process which is unaffected by a looming catastrophe.
These conditions make rescue and relief for women a lot more complex.
For one thing, we barely have a visible female presence within the rescue teams. There are hardly any female paramedics. There are female health care providers but the numbers are not enough to impart the empathetic care necessary for this compromised group of females.
The hardest and the worst hit by the floods have been the poorest of the poor, the most destitute and ‘dispensable.’ Menstrual or para-partum health is something that may never have even crossed them in the slightest. Let alone accessibility to MHPs which are a luxury commodity even within urban centers. Chances are these women may still be using primitive methods during periods.
The social taboo around women’s biological episodes is so strong that bringing it up even in causes of urgent need opens one to disapproval and censure.
No one is asking to make this a topic for drawing room discussions; we have plenty of politics to obsess over. Yet it must be brought up and considered mannerly in times of need, such as this one. Just because it does not fit the bill of sellable misery to capture aid, or simply because it garners distaste among the puritanically disposed; neither of them means that this distressful consequence of the tragic floods can be ignored or understated.
These women already compromised: they have their health and dignity at stake. Their recovery from disasters needs to be carefully thought out. MHPs, emergency sterile delivery kits, nourishment and utilities for nursing mothers should all be made standard part of an itemised list of emergency toolkits – assuming we have one of these to begin with. Availability of clean toilets and washing areas should be ensured too.
More importantly though, the disaster management think tanks need to have women on board. Sometimes you just need a woman to do a job. That’s it. No man of steel.
With sizable funds pouring in from across the world, these provisions aren’t unachievable. There just needs to be the will as well realisation of the plight that women are currently going through as flood victims.