Menstruation happens. It’s one of those things those of us who menstruate have to deal with. For the majority of us it is nothing more than a routine inconvenience; a few days each month where we have to remember to carry a little something extra when leaving the house. We might be leaving that house with hair that feels more greasy than normal, or feeling bloated or generally more emotional but it’s just something we get used to though and have a coping strategy for it. The thing is, no matter how minging we may feel during that time, We Are The Lucky Ones as some people who menstruate (PWM)  don’t even have a roof over their head. These are the rough sleepers (also known as “long term roofless”)
In Scotland, like elsewhere in the UK, official statistics suggest that the majority of rough sleepers are men, however, given that this is the most vulnerable situation for a homeless person to be in it would be no surprise if this was an underestimate. I’m no expert but from what I have a read some of those rough sleepers will be trans men who may be still having to deal with the (for want of a better term) “legacy” of their birth 2. That means that every night, a portion of the people who are having to sleep rough will also be menstruating, with no access to sanitary towels, tampons or somewhere to clean themselves up. Oh, and there’s the minor matter of dealing with being in a dangerous situation, maybe coping with mental illness or whatever life has thrown at them to be put in that situation in the first place.
This lady tells you better than I can.
But don’t you advocate cloth sanitary towels?
Yes, I do, but you’re missing my point. I choose to do so and I have the facilities to keep the cloth clean, as well as myself. The lady speaking in the video had no choice and it was one of the things that made her feel lower than low. Even using a menstrual cup can be difficult if you don’t have the privacy of a toilet cubicle (I certainly wouldn’t want to try).
That’s all very well but what can we do?
Well there are lots of charities, initiatives and organisations to support the homeless. Those particularly set up to support a woman’s needs during her period include:
- Helping Handbags Worldwide, a UK based initiative aiming to “give women in crisis a helping hand from a fellow female”. They encourage women “to raid their cupboards and closets, find an old bag (could be new) and fill it up with sanitary and hygiene products to be then passed on to a homeless woman”.
- Distributing Dignity, a USA based charity who’s mission is to “distribute new bras, pads and tampons, enhancing the dignity of women in need”.
- #HappyPeriod, another USA based “social movement”. This time set up to fulfill the mission to “provide menstrual hygiene kits to the homeless who would otherwise go without.” The initiative supports everyone that has a monthly flow, including teenagers, nonbinary, and the LGBT community.
- The Homeless Period who campaign for tampons and towels to be made available through (UK) homeless shelters, the same way the government provides condoms. They also encourage people to donate to their nearest shelter.
- Tampon Tuesday which is a unique way to gather with women in your community to network, socialize and go with the flow. Join leaders in your community on the second Tuesday of every month and support women in your community. Admission: 1 box of menstrual hygiene product to be donated to your local food bank.
These are all great ideas which I wholeheartedly support, however, the majority rely on
- Someone presenting as female
- Individuals making use of homeless shelters etc.
So there are still people being missed. So how do we close that loophole? I’m not sure exactly what the answer is but one would be making sure that tampon/towel dispensers were provided in unisex toilets (or just in every public toilet, they can be used as a general medical dressing for goodness sake) and that those items dispensed from it were free. That would be something. Then again, if governments across the world continue to tax sanitary products what hope do we have for that to happen any time soon?
What do you think?
 Not everyone who menstruates identifies as female, so I choose to use the term “people who menstruate”.
 If there is a better/official term for this please feel free to correct me. I don’t ever claim to be an expert!
This article’s Featured Image was taken by Simon Whitaker and used on this blog under the terms of the Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC 2.0) Licence. Depending on your screen dimensions (and the theme I am using when you read this) you may not see it in it’s entirety so check the original image “Homeless woman with her dog” on Flickr