Today we dropped some Oi pads down to the Auckland City Mission, a small but significant and very practical start. Toiletries are a simple and seemingly benign little thing, but sorely needed at the mission, and a necessity often overlooked in donations.
If menstrual care was classified as healthcare, essential feminine hygiene products would be free and available for all socially disadvantaged women on prescription, thus restoring a small measure of dignity for homeless women.
If you would like to help, please drop off much needed sanitary care products at the Auckland City Mission, or the equivilant in your area, or you can give a box to RAW women with our ‘buy a box, give a box’ initiative.
Periods, its something we all have in common.
Very few women look forward to having their periods unless they are hoping they are not pregnant and even after years or even decades of menstruating, it can still be painful, expensive and difficult to manage, even with the very best organic cotton products available. It is not uncommon to feel weepy, tired and miserable during this time.
But, what if you're a woman living on the street? Getting your period isn’t just difficult, it’s the most awful, humiliating and demeaning experience you can imagine. If you don’t have the money for food or shelter, then it’s likely to be impossible to scrape together enough funds to buy sanitary products such as tampons or pads.
For many women in this appalling situation, shoplifting, is sometimes the only option, it’s either that or bleeding through your clothes which you may not be able to wash.
Shelters and boarding houses will often carry some supplies but they are not always available as these community-run organisations are reliant on donations.
In New Zealand there is no standard practice of giving out sanitary care supplies at sexual health clinics – unlike condoms, which are given out freely by both Doctors and Family planning clinics - and it is not possible to be ‘prescribed’ sanitary product by a Doctor which means that there a very few resources available for homeless women.
Sanitary products are classed as a "luxury, non-essential item" and as such are taxed. As we know, menstruation is a natural biological event, it is that is out of the control of women. So it's easy to argue that tampons and pads are hardly a non-essential item. You may have seen the protests in Britain. Unfortunately homeless women without the means to purchase these simple "luxuries" are constantly forced to go without.
Sadly homeless women often move from one unsafe, unpredictable situation to another and deal with the ongoing difficulties, emotional and physical of menstruation. They may never feel clean or be able to wash, either themselves or their clothes, during this time. Irregular access to toilets and washing facilities makes it difficult to regularly change tampons and pads, which can potentially lead to infection, irritation and even serious diseases such as toxic shock syndrome.
It seems sad that it is over 80 years since Dr Earle Haas invented the first modern tampon, revolutionising healthcare for women, but many are still forced to stuff tissue, old rags or newspaper down their knickers every month.
If menstrual care was classified as healthcare, essential feminine hygiene products would be free and available for all on prescription, thus restoring some dignity homeless women deserve.
Typically women menstruate for 35 years, so having a period – moreover, a vagina – turns out to be rather costly so it’s about time we made it as easy, healthy and as affordable as possible.
20% of homeless people in New Zealand are women and will all the battles these women face menstruation should not be one of them. Period.