Many people who have not experienced menstruation find it uncomfortable. From the imagination of pools of gory blood to the reality of using and used menstrual pads, tampons, and other sanitary items. I argue that the only truly disgusting thing about menstruation is the fact that women across the world who are homeless are unable to access basic essential items during their cycle.
Women experiencing homelessness face a unique set of issues because of their gender. The homeless period website reports that though shelters are given an allowance every year to buy necessities like condoms, there is still not an allowance given for sanitary products. If shelters are unable to provide sanitary products, then women experiencing homelessness are simply not able to afford spending £13 to per month on period products which is the UK average amount spent on sanitary items.
So how do women experiencing homelessness cope with their periods? Many women are forced to go to public bathrooms and use tissues to create make-shift protection. Other women use old cloth, rags, towels, and even plastic bags. Clearly many of these methods are unsanitary and can lead to yeast and urinary tract infections. On top of the methods themselves being unsanitary, the circumstance of homelessness itself exasperates this issue. By not having access to a consistent and secure bathroom’s, many homeless women are forced to keep their pads and tampons on for longer time periods. Allegra Parillo and Edward Fellar (2017) reported that even when women do have access to showers at shelters, their access is very limited, once again elongating the time in which one should clean themselves which then maximises the risk of infection.
Though the physical effects of experiencing periods whilst homeless are largely not though about, the mental effects of experiencing periods whilst homeless are even more greatly hidden. When many women are on their periods they experience low moods, mood swings and in the worse-case depression. Women experiencing homelessness experience these feelings at a higher level because of their inability to choose to be clean and because they lack the privilege to rest in a warm bed, not worry about their next meal, and relieve themselves from pain because they cannot afford painkillers or hot water bottles.
Despite the harsh and painful facts of this often-invisible issue, there is a silver lining in that fighters for justice across the UK have strived to change this issue and you can help too. The Homeless Period is a movement started by three colleagues Oli, Josie, and Sara. The group collects sanitary product donations and sends them to women who need them most. Period Poverty is another organisation that does not only help homeless women but women of all circumstances who for some reason are unable to access sanitary products. Other than these niche organisations you can always donate products at food banks and local charities, or simply make a conversation in-person with someone in need and make a small purchase that is a humongous help.
Words by Dasia Ngundam