Menstruation is often considered too taboo to discuss openly, but it is a part of everyday life. Women spend a large amount of money paying for tampons, pads, and pain relievers on a monthly basis. It’s a part of life that women are expected to deal with and pay for to maintain – but, when homelessness is an added variable, this monthly visit from mother nature can be uncomfortable, messy, and a burden.
A UK nonprofit, The Homeless Period, is attempting to alleviate that burden for women living on the streets. Its volunteers leave sanitary collection boxes around the city, and a GoFundMe page has been set up for donations to help purchase supplies.
The average woman in the United Kingdom is estimated to spend around £1,600 – around $2,200 – on menstrual products.
Women often have a hard time asking for help when it comes to menstruation. Organizations like The Homeless Period and I Support the Girls are designed with the purpose of helping women in need without uncomfortable confrontation.
“As a woman I wouldn’t want to be vocalizing what I needed in regard of that kind of support,” Ann-Marie Ado, a No Limits support worker, told BBC. “It’s about that freedom of not asking, just knowing it’s there, because it is a very embarrassing topic.”
In the United States, menstruation products represent a $5.9B industry – worldwide it’s an estimated $35.4B.
But homeless women don’t necessarily have the option of running to a store and purchasing sanitary products – having to choose between a meal and a pad is a harsh reality.
“It would be great to have these items available for free,” said Anne Rios, Think Dignity executive director. “We consider it gender discrimination that these items are not readily available for all and are taxed. Those who bleed are discriminated against by having to pay for necessary items that are a result of biology.”
Homeless women often resort to stealing feminine products or using rags and tissues in place of tampons and pads. While it might seem like a quick fix, using such products can lead to serious health hazards like infections.
As of 2015, there were an estimated 565,000 homeless people living in the US with women making up about 40 percent of that population. Ann Steiner Lantz, executive director of Ecumenical Social Ministries, said the menstruation debate is often about the dignity of the woman.
“People who are experiencing homelessness have had their dignity stripped away in so many ways, and by providing these items that are so essential, we help them reclaim it,” said Lantz.
Menstruation products aren’t a luxury, but a necessity. Women need proper and accessible hygiene products, even if they’re homeless.
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