Tell you one way to end a dull dinner party conversation, mention your period. Cue deadening silence or an awkward change of topic. Perhaps you might get someone game to talk about periods because they are (in their opinion) a rather evolved human, but that’s quite rare. It seems bizarre that in 2015 periods still make people squeamy – just look at how earlier this year Instagram censored Toronto artist Rupi Kaur’s menstrual photo series, or how tampons still attract the GST because they’re considered to be a luxury item, and how in advertising campaigns menstrual blood is always shown as alarmingly blue.
However, nowhere is the resistance to periods more clearly shown – and deeply problematic – than among poor and homeless women who don’t have access to “luxury” items such as sanitary pads.
A campaign in the UK has been gaining traction online for addressing a problem that you probably hadn’t thought that much about – how homeless women deal with their periods. The group, The Homeless Period, are lobbying the government to provide sanitary products in homeless shelters (especially given that condoms are supplied, free), and are also leading a drive for donations of said items. It’s working. People have been donating products in droves, and spreading the word online via the hash tag #thehomelessperiod. More than 88, 000 people have also signed a Change.org petition to lobby for sanitary products in homeless shelters.
It’s a practical solution to a social problem, and one that’s not often spoken about. So as part of The Homeless Period campaign, homeless women spoke about their experiences of managing their periods while sleeping rough.
In one thought-provoking video, a once homeless woman spoke of the humiliation of not being able to attend to her menstrual care properly,
“When I was homeless and I used to have my period, I used to end up going to a public toilet,” she said. “You’d end up taking a cloth or whatever… and using that. I used to feel very depressed… Why does a woman have to rip up a cloth, put between her to protect herself from bleeding?”
The implications of improper sanitary care can be vast – beyond discomfort and embarrassment.
In India, one man set out to conquer what had become a huge problem in India – 23 per cent of girls leaving education when they started their period due to lack of access to sanitary products and ways of dealing with their period, and huge numbers of preventative reproductive disease due to poor menstrual hygiene.
Arunachalam Muruganantham created a cheap way that communities can make sanitary pads, and has been hailed a hero, though he has also attracted considerable scorn from some in his country who thought it improper that a man would be talking about periods.
The thing is, as The Homeless Period’s tag line reads, “It doesn’t bear thinking about… and that’s the problem,” we need to stop being so squeamish about periods. Especially when it comes to talking about the women with the least agency in our communities.
In Australia 44% of homeless people are women, and dealing with your period shouldn’t be something that you have to be able to afford, it should be a right. And we need to talk about it.