Period Poverty: a modern day crisis
This week we have a guest blog from Louanne of the Southampton Homeless Period Project. The cost of living crisis is increasingly impacting women’s ability to purchase sanitary products, and Louanne has first hand experience in supporting women in poverty from across the south.
SSJ & The Homeless Period
The Homeless Period Southampton was created in 2017 to help tackle period poverty in the city, and it has been slowly growing ever since. We now have our own website with multiple fundraising options, are able to be present at community events, have over a thousand followers on Facebook and an amazing core team of volunteers. A big focus is education, and breaking the stigma and taboos around periods.
We work with a number of charities in the city, from those that help with homelessness, addiction, domestic abuse, trans youth and more, with Society of St James being the largest of them. Our aim is to reduce, and hopefully eliminate, the money that charities would ordinarily spend purchasing sanitary products and toiletries so that they can put their funds into their core services. We’re simply a menstrual middle-(wo)man.
The homeless charities in the city tell us that around a third of their users are women, a figure that is significantly higher than it was a few years ago.
Periods are rubbish at the best of times. It’s not floral scented and it’s not pretty blue liquid that the adverts would have you believe. It’s not wearing tiny white shorts and playing tennis or whatever other rubbish brands have told us over the years. It’s miserable, uncomfortable and frankly a nuisance, even if you have all the tampons in the world.
Period poverty takes all those real experiences and makes it infinitely worse. People will use socks, rags, crisp packets (!) as makeshift pads, or will use tampons for much longer than they should or even try to reuse them, which isn’t only unhygienic but it’s dangerous as well as it can cause infection. Having a period with no supplies can be embarrassing, dehumanising, and if nothing else everyone deserves to have access to essential products. Projects like this one want to end period poverty because we want everyone to be safe and healthy, to feel clean, valued and proud.
Throughout the pandemic, we saw an increase in homelessness, as well as in cases of domestic violence. Women were more likely than men to be furloughed, and the gender pay gap still sits at around 8% in the UK on average for full time workers.
All of these factors contributed to an increased demand for sanitary products, despite the government’s super helpful re-categorisation that they are no longer considered ‘luxury’ items, which reduced the tax on them by 5%.
Over the past few years we’ve seen an increase in the availability of reusable products, such as menstrual cups, period pants and washable pads. Typically our charities ask us for the disposable products, but we are seeing a slow growth in the favour of more eco-friendly reusables.
Reusables are sometimes thought of as a magical cure for period poverty, but this simply isn’t the case. If they’re not properly sanitised then menstrual cups can be an infection risk, and those in sheltered or shared accommodation don’t always have the facilities or privacy to wash pads and pants. In school or work, carrying used items around with you isn’t always practical. Another factor is simply lack of awareness that these products exist, or the education on how to properly clean them.
It’s vital that we provide the products that people want, and are comfortable using. It’s not up to us to tell anyone what they should or shouldn’t be using; but what we can do is work with the charities, educate, and provide people with the opportunity to try them. However we are seeing a general increase in interest.
THE HOMELESS PERIOD
At the moment we’re sending out thousands of products every single month and the charities we work with seem to be going through them faster than ever. Our aim is to enable everyone to have access to menstrual products, to be able to go to school or work unhindered by their period. We don’t ever want to hear of someone using a crisp packet as a pad ever again, and we want everyone to be able to talk about their experiences openly without fear of stigma or shame.
A person’s background, circumstances, culture or anything else should not matter, no one should be at a disadvantage because they menstruate.
The Homeless Period is not a registered charity and we’re not eligible for grants – it’s simply a small project run in spare time by a few people. This means that every penny donated goes directly on essential items as we have no overheads, but it also means that we rely entirely on the public to help.