In an unprecedented manner, the world grappled with COVID-19 pandemic, for over two years which reinforced gendered factors that are connected to gender-based violence (GBV), contributing to its increase.
As discussed by UNFPA’s COVID-19 impact brief, the pandemic has exacerbated some of the foremost contributors to GBV including unemployment, poverty, gender stereotypes and harmful social norms. These same conditions impact the ability of women and girls to manage their menstruation with dignity. Traditionally, menstruation is rarely recognized as a trigger for GBV. However, in many communities, menstrual stigma, taboo, and some harmful traditional practices are linked to instances of violence towards women and girls.
If we are to eradicate GBV we must also cultivate and strengthen supportive MH environments for women and girls.
Economic Turmoil and GBV
Outside of the health sector, economic turmoil was one of the foremost impacts of the pandemic.
In June 2020, UNDP estimated 40-60 million people would be pushed into extreme poverty due to the economic shock of COVID-19. The same socioeconomic impact assessment estimated that 1.6 billion individuals lost 60% of their typical income over the course of 2020. These global economic stressors trickle down to impact menstruating individuals, as poverty and unemployment place women and girls at risk for a gendered form of economic violence specifically tied to menstrual cycles. This occurs when funds used to purchase menstrual solutions are withheld by a patriarch, partner or parent, or when these individuals lack understanding of why menstrual products should be considered essential.
The same lack of understanding may lead husbands or partners to inflict physical violence on female family members, who may need to repurpose fabrics in the home (such as blankets) to use as a makeshift menstrual solution when they cannot afford or access products. When men leave cash for their wives to purchase food and essentials and women reallocate some of those funds towards menstrual products, they may be assaulted or abused as a result.
The WASH Factor
Another impact of the pandemic was a decrease in access to safe WASH facilities for women and girls due to lockdown, which is an essential component of both menstrual health and GBV protection. When people with periods do not have access to clean, private, and safe sanitation facilities, they may be followed, seen inappropriately, or violated. Physical, psychological and sexual violence are all directly reduced by a safe sanitation facility.
Prior to COVID-19, women and girls often accessed safe sanitation facilities at schools and community centers, but the closing of these facilities during pandemic shutdowns has impacted their safety.
Child Marriages: A Growing Problem
One of the final inter-sectional effects that the pandemic has had on GBV and MH is the issue of child marriage.
UNICEF estimates that due to COVID-19, 10 million additional girls are now at risk of child marriage. On the whole, the COVID-19 pandemic has highlighted the strong interconnectedness of menstrual health needs and triggers for gender-based violence. Economic volatility, restricted access to public goods like WASH facilities, shifting social groups, and the stressors felt by individual families, have all impacted both the menstrual health and protection of women and girls globally. MH is an issue intricately tied to GBV, and cannot be overlooked in GBV prevention efforts.
As the world seeks to address GBV, inclusion of MH is absolutely essential for promoting a safer and more equitable world where women and girls can pursue opportunities and reach their full potential.