girl in hoodieI held out the fresh croissant.
“I thought you might like it. It’s still warm!”
The woman took it. “Thank you so much,” she raised the packet to her face and placed it against her cheek. “Oh, it smells…it smells really good!”
“It tastes even better. I’ve just finished mine,” I said laughing as I left.
This woman spent her nights on this little bit of open land. I had seen her in the evenings with a group of people huddled round a fire. There was a shout behind me and I turned around to see the woman running to catch up.
“I see you passing here quite often. The next time you go to the shops, could you please get me a….”
“Another croissant?” I said chuckling.
“No, I need a…”, she hesitated, looking embarrassed, “Please could you buy me a box of tampons or sanitary towels?”
“Oh…oh, do you need them now?”
“No, in about two days. I…I don’t have money,” she finished lamely.
As I walked home, I thought on this.
In biblical times, menstruating women were considered unclean, ‘something’ to be avoided at all costs. Those menstruating were kept apart from the community.
At least society has improved marginally since then, I thought.
homelessWomen living on the streets are at high risk of sexual violence, rape, and sexual trafficking. These problems are often documented but, there’s one difficult aspect of women’s homelessness not often discussed: the difficulty of getting your period while living rough.
No woman actively looks forward to getting her period. No, I’m wrong. I was fourteen and still hadn’t started menstruating. How I longed for the day when I would look in my pants and discover a blood smear! When I had at last started, that time of month was certainly nothing to look forward to. It can be a painful, expensive hassle every month that leaves you feeling completely flattened. I used to have incredibly heavy periods that lasted about a week. But if you’re a woman living in poverty or on the street, having a period isn’t a hassle – it must be a sheer nightmare. Because if you can’t muddle together enough money for food or shelter, it is unlikely you’ll be able to afford sanitary towels or tampons.
“I use lots of toilet paper and napkins, but you have to make sure to change regularly,” one woman said.
“I use socks and other pieces of cloth, and wash them whenever I get the chance,” another replied.
Another describes making a makeshift tampon using four or five squares of toilet paper rolled up tightly: “It’s gross and weird and pretty unsanitary, but it  keeps your underwear clean, which is pretty important if you don’t have a drawer full of underwear.”
In Africa, among the poorer communities, menstruation is indeed a curse. Often women cannot afford sanitary towels or there are none available. The women and girls use anything from rags, tree leaves, old clothes, toilet paper, newspapers, cotton wool or literally anything that can do the job of soaking up the flow.
Often, as a means to raise money for sanitary towels, women engage in transactional sex. This puts them at  risk to HIV and STI infections.
Young girls are forced to skip school during the time they experience monthly periods to avoid both the cost of pads. It is estimated that within the four years of high school, a girl can lose 156 learning days: equivalent to almost 24 weeks out of 144 weeks of learning. In addition,  girls have to deal with emotional and psychological tension associated with the menstrual process.
To make matters worse, many schools in underprivileged areas, lack sufficient sanitation facilities which are vital. Things like water, adequate toilet facilities and appropriate dumping facilities for sanitary wear are just not available. As a result, menstruating girls opt to stay at home rather than go to school.
This whole scenario is tragic for the female race. For goodness sakes, women have to endure menstruation, pregnancy, giving birth, menopause! Access to affordable sanitary care is surely a basic human right but one that is never discussed in our male dominated world. And it should be. It needs to be!
It has been reported that tampons and pads are generally not donated to homeless women because of their high cost. Society is reticent to discuss menstruation in general. People who are in a position to help often aren’t even aware that such a vast need exists because the issue remains taboo. Look at me! I bought that woman a croissant. I would never have thought to buy her tampons!
This is the modern-day face of female poverty and homelessness. Of female helplessness!
Whatever the case, the fact remains: every woman should be able to have access to the right products which can enable her to happily endure menstruation.
tamponsCampaigns like Essentials for Women of Perth or Distributing Dignity in the US go some way to assist: last year, that campaign collected thousands of tampons and pads for homeless women after a Facebook post by concerned citizen, Lenny Jacoby went viral. But it’s clear we still have a long way to go before homeless women can finally feel “clean”.
No woman should be cursed to disempowerment by the natural act of monthly periods.
I bought that woman three boxes of Tampax. Next month I will do the same.