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No donations, no free sanitary napkins: COVID 19 hits`safe periods’ campaign in Kashmir

Srinagar:  Doctors campaigning for menstrual hygiene have cautioned against the possible sanitary napkin crisis in Kashmir

Dr. Auqafeen Nisar, who initiated the first-of-its-kind campaign, `Panin Fikr’ against menstrual taboo, said the lockdown has unleashed a sanitary napkin crisis in the valley.

“After the pandemic began, the donations stopped pouring in. Our funds are grossly inadequate and we cannot provide free of cost sanitary napkins to the registered population under the initiative. Also, we cannot do any door to door or mass awareness campaigns at a time, when social gatherings are disallowed,” Dr. Auqafeen said.

The 29-year-old resident doctor at SMHS, Dr. Auqafeen has been championing the campaign since 2019. Leading a six-member team comprising two nurses and four ASHAs (Accredited Social Health Activist), her sub-center in Nandpora caters to a population of around 4000 of whom 200 are adolescent girls

“It took us a lot of time to bring the behavioral changes in the women regarding menstrual hygiene. The free of cost napkins was a source of motivation for them. However, all the efforts will go waste if things continue like this. They will resort to their old unhygienic practices,” she said.

Dr. Nausheen Khan, a senior gynecologist at Lal Ded Hospital, Srinagar said after lockdown, the distribution of the sanitary pads has hit a dead end.

“The government must ensure that the sanitary pads are distributed to females in the community through Auxiliary Nurse-Midwives (ANMs) and ASHAs. Even if sanitary napkins are not available, they should educate them on how to make sanitary napkins at home. The napkins can be made from cotton cloth and changed frequently. They should be washed properly before using it again,” she said.

Dr. Khan pointed out that subsidized sanitary pads can also be made available for sale through the ration shops. “It is the need of the hour to ensure a gender-sensitive and inclusive response to the Covid-19 crisis so that the menstrual health and hygiene needs of women and girls are met especially the most marginalized section,” she said.

World Menstrual Hygiene Day is observed on May 28. The main idea behind marking this day is to change the social stigma associated with menstruation.

This year’s theme is ‘Periods in Pandemic’. The idea behind choosing this theme is to highlight how the challenges faced by women during menstruation has worsened due to the ongoing pandemic.

However, the pandemic has severely hit the awareness campaign in the valley.

Aqib Peerzada, a 27-year-old entrepreneur, popularly knowns as `Padman of Kashmir’ for launching organic sanitary napkins `Seha’, said the pandemic has exacerbated women’s deprivation of menstrual hygiene products.

“The lockdown has resulted in restricted access and mobility, making it even more difficult for girls to manage their monthly cycle in a dignified healthy way,” Aqib said.

He noted he had aimed to reach out to a population of 2-3 lakh by the end of this year through awareness campaigns. “The awareness campaign became a distant dream. Even among 50, 000 sanitary napkin packets, I was only able to deliver 12,000 packets amid this crisis so far,” he said.