Periods, eh? UH.
The cramping deep in your tummy, maybe extending across your lower back.
The bloated feeling, and an appetite you can't satisfy.
The mood swings and temper tantrums that wrack you, one moment to the next.
Oh, and worst of all, having to re-use one sanitary towel for 5 days because you nearly got caught the last time you tried to steal a new pack. But you only have one towel left, so in a couple of days you’re gonna need to fashion one out of tissues, inevitably re-staining your jeans once again.
Periods SUCK for all women, but they are particularly distressing and depressing for homeless women and girls.
Video from The Homeless Period.
I never really thought about this aspect of the homeless woman’s plight, I am ashamed to admit.
I always think of the same things we all do, and wonder about how they eat, how they keep warm and how they keep clean.
Homelessness is clearly something I could do to re-question and re-educate myself about.
As soon as this aspect of their experience caught my attention I couldn’t stop thinking about it. How, as a period-having woman, had it not really crossed my mind before?
“...in the UK, it is estimated that the average woman spends over £3500 on sanitary products.
Women in Western countries are so accustomed to using commodified, reusable sanitary products that alternative methods, such as cloths and reusable products, are sometimes viewed as anachronistic, less hygienic methods of menstrual management. Therefore, the main method by which women manage their period is through buying and using disposable sanitary products.
...for the economically marginalised, affording sanitary products may be difficult or even impossible. Having good menstrual hygiene is not only important to protect women against negative social reactions that follow overt leaking or staining, but also to avoid the possibility of damaging reproductive and gynaecological health”.
This is about hygiene and preventative basic healthcare. This is about considering the provision of sanitary-ware as important as providing shelter from the elements, food and water.
I have Facebook to thank for raising awareness on this issue. The endless scrolling counts for something some of the time!
I learned of a growing community project called The Homeless Period when I noticed a friend of mine was sharing the initiative and co-ordinating efforts for the donation of sanitary-ware to be distributed to vulnerable women and girls across my local city, Southampton, and nearby town, Winchester.
The first instance of 'The Homeless Period' was set-up in Birmingham by Keeley and Phoebe, an initiative that is part of a wider goal to to get government support for providing sanitary-ware to homeless shelters, originally begun by a group of friends in London.
Keely’s own words on the subject:
“Periods are not a great time of the month for any woman, but for homeless women with very limited access to the expensive ‘luxury’ of sanitary items, it really is such an awful and humiliating time, and because of the taboo nature of the topic it’s one that doesn’t often cross our mind. Some women are forced to use ripped up cloths or toilet roll from public toilets, or make a few tampons last the entire length of their period. This can lead to infections, and so it isn’t just the emotional impact – it’s also really dangerous!".
In response to this, Keely and a number of other volunteers now collect sanitary-ware donations and produce care packages for women across the Midlands.
Kirsty recognized that this project was probably also important in her own city of Southampton.
“Last year I worked for Hampshire & Isle of Wight YMCA and have a few connections at their supported housing unit for vulnerable 16-25 year-olds in the city centre, so I quickly dropped them an email to ask about their position on providing sanitary products to the girls and young women who live there, and as expected, they got back to me almost instantly—confirming that as a charitable organisation, they do really struggle to foot the bill for sanitary products, and often find that the girls they support are fleeing non-permanent homes with barely anything at all.”
Things have exploded since Kirsty first began her localized efforts. She receives emails weekly from willing volunteers and has managed to co-ordinate a number of people who are helping collect donations and distribute where needed.
She has attracted the support of Feminist Societies at University of Southampton and Solent University, as well as getting responses from Winchester University. LUSH Ltd. UK's Head Office have even been in contact as well as Winchester City Council and local schools.
Thanks to these engaged women, an avalanche of awareness and community-minded thinking has erupted around the issue.
The interest is broad because the issue is something we as women all feel a shit-ton of empathy toward.
It is however just one aspect of the wider complex issue around homeless women, periods and the breaking down of age-old taboo's. Yet we all feel empowered and a little closer to changing things if we can personally help a woman in need.
I remember all those times I bought a pack of sanitary towels that ended up not being to my liking in size or comfort and I am sad to say, I ended up discarding them. There are so many other things I could have done with them. That isn't something I would do today, but still, I feel pretty bad about it.
Personally, going forward, I want to learn about how to have a less expensive, more healthy, and more sustainable period. I am going to be trying out new products that mean I might be able to say goodbye to pads and tamp’s for good. But this is likely the way things will go eventually, when we decide we no longer want to support using chemical-laden products, products we feel like have no choice but to use, then discarding them to go to landfill. Maybe one day this will become a widespread reality, for us privileged non-homeless women that is.
Shailini Vora's report touches on this and notes how homeless women wouldn’t be able to comply with the cleanliness and hygiene required for using menstrual cups and re-usable pads for example. But it isn’t just about that.
Vora’s report also noted the problem with managing the emotional aspects of the homeless woman’s period experience.
The mental and physical impact of a period is immense, yet these women haven’t got a nice cosy home in which to relax. They often have to resort to trying to find comfort in random and unsupportive places, including cafes, places that want them to spend money they don’t have, or leave.
So of course, shelters and homeless organisations are yet again fundamental in supporting these women, but there remains a widespread lack of consistency in what they can all readily supply. Unless awareness of this issue grew exponentially and projects such as The Homeless Period were able to receive more publicity and in-turn, public support, the problem won’t get any better. But the issue goes even deeper, as noted in Vora’s report.
The taboo around periods is real and alive, and these women don’t necessarily want to have to go in and physically ask for sanitary-ware every month, even if it’s a need (I'd argue a fundamental right) and not a want. They are vulnerable to begin with and this becomes an added embarrassment for them. They feel apologetic in asking and reduced in their self-reliance and self-esteem because they are beholden to further handouts.
Period taboo's are real for all women, acutely so for homeless women, and they really need to be broken down through continuous conversation and education.
There is no argument against providing free sanitary products in abundance, despite the complexity of doing so, just argument around how to manage it long-term. There is also question about when this issue, especially amidst growing community effort, actually attracts solid attention and change from policy makers.
There is the need to continue to break down the taboos around periods to increase overall awareness of this issue, for the furtherance of helping these women, and all women, in feeling more comfortable in asking for help with their period needs, as concluded by Shailini Vora.
Imma jump off from that point, right now, and tell you a little bit about my period experience:
- I have a medium-to light flow for around 5 days. It used to be heavier pre-contraceptive pill.
- I get rolling lower stomach cramps a few times, before and during my period.
- I used to get back pain but now I just get stiffness.
- I feel like I have no energy, almost as if I have the flu.
- I want to eat a lot more food, especially at night.
- I get terrible PMT and become a permanently frowning version of myself for a good few days before-hand.
- I cry at almost anything of mild annoyance and generally lose perspective.
- I feel unclean and uncomfortable for the whole 5 days and can't wait for it to be over
- I can shower as often as I want and I can buy every different scented version of sanitary towel on offer.
- I can stuff my face from my full kitchen cupboards and I can use my bathroom when that food comes back to haunt me.
- I can try new methods like menstrual cups, to make my period easier in the future.
- I have access to a private and comfortable bedroom, a box full of paracetamol and the distraction of Netflix, which all helps me get through the mood swings.
Even when I'm on my period, I am fortunate and privileged.
My period pain is not the most painful version there is to be had.