Women have periods. Many women are homeless. Women make up almost 32 percent of the homeless population in the United States. Those women have periods too. It’s not something that we often think about, but there’s no dignity in having to bleed once a month with nowhere to clean yourself.
Al Jazeera reported earlier this week that many homeless women felt ashamed to discuss needing sanitary pads or tampons because menstruating, or common term of “period,” remains a subject lampooned or taboo. The news source spoke with Ayana James, one of 3,262 homeless women in New York City, and disclosed that keeping her body clean was “a daily struggle.” For these women, being able to take a decent, regular shower is a mission itself, but when also having their period, the reality of a healthy body feels impossible.
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Without proper care, they are at risk of infections and diseases, even if menstruating is meant to release the body of toxins. Clinics and shelters in New York have described the need for feminine hygiene products as “overwhelming”, and that is likely considering women have their periods at different times.
Clinics and organizations across America are doing their best to respond efficiently. Donations are sometimes scarce, but nonprofits are joining the cause including Distributing Dignity, which hosts gatherings and drives where bras and products are donated. Places and programs like La Mave in San Francisco and Harlem’s Bowery Mission’s Women’s Center are also encouraging a new fresh agenda where homeless people are required to take showers when in their vicinity and are offered clean clothes.
Strides are being made, but volunteers, centers and nonprofit associates admit that they still have work to do in removing the stigma of homeless women being shut out of needing feminine hygiene products. As quoted by Al Jazzera, Rosanna Montilla, of the Care for the Homeless said, “It’s not one of the items that people automatically think of when they donate toiletries. When you get to specific items like female hygiene products, you have to specifically ask for it.”