As a woman, I can honestly say that not many women jump for joy when it’s that time of the month. And when it’s that time of the month for a woman who is homeless, the depth of dread sinks deeper than I or any of us could imagine.
According to Shelter Scotland, roughly 21% of the 34,972 people who registered as homeless in the 2017-2018 year were single women; 17% were single mothers (Shelter Scotland, 2017). While these women not only worry about sleeping rough, finding food and searching for eventual stability, they also must navigate the inevitabilities of being female, many without adequate funds or resources.
Just the other day, I walked into Asda looking to restock my supply of pads and tampons. I was shocked to see how expensive a single box of tampons was, but I needed them and after throwing them into my cart, I didn’t ponder on it much longer. Yet, there are women in this very city who cannot afford to buy the sanitary towels or toiletries they need. What would you choose if you were homeless: food or tampons?
The larger part of history, society – even charities – has rarely talked about homelessness and periods. I didn’t even consider it as something homeless women faced until I discovered #TheHomelessPeriod. Founded by three women who were interning together at a London advertising agency, the movement quickly took off.
Working to gain awareness about the issue, The Homeless Period has paired with various charities, beauty companies and every day women in donating hundreds of thousands of “Period Packs” for women who are homeless across the UK (TheHomlessPeriod.com).
#TheHomelessPeriod, however, were not the only ones to notice the difficulties homeless women were facing. Thanks to a 2015 Huffington Post article discussing homeless women and periods in the UK, Stephanie Arnold and Sharron Champion from South Carolina, United States decided that enough was enough and were inspired to start their own charity.
Arnold and Champion’s charity, The Homeless Period Project, also has worked to create and distribute “Period Packs” to women who cannot or struggle to afford necessities for their periods. Volunteers, community members and women who experienced homelessness in their past help Arnold and Champion to not only provide women and young girls with sanitary products, but also end the stigma surrounding menstruation.
Arnold and Champion are heavily involved in their work, hosting “Period Pack” sessions with volunteers, delivering hundreds of pads and tampons to schools in surrounding districts, and running the overall operations of the charity. In an interview for a Restoring Dignity documentary, Champion states that “moms will go without [sanitary napkins], but the thought that you’re so much in poverty… that you can’t afford the products for your child and how hurtful that must be for the mothers.”
The work all of these women have done brings me back to Scotland and the 21% and 17% of women who have to sleep rough and endure the pains and stains of Mother Nature’s monthly ‘gift’. Working at Bethany, I’ve discovered the countless employees, volunteers and service users who are strongly committed to not only eliminating homelessness across Scotland, but also preserving and upholding the dignity and respect of all who seek our help.
So, with that in mind, how can we – how can I – help the women sleeping rough across Scotland even more than we have already? How do we empower women experiencing homelessness and help restore their dignity?
As I’ve said before in previous blog posts, I strongly believe in the power of small actions. A few ways to help out could involve simply talking with a woman you see, listening to her story and asking her if she needs anything (you, of course, should not flat out ask “do you need a tampon?” but engage in civil conversation).
Simply donating online to charities of your choosing is another great way of supporting women. #TheHomelessPeriod encourages donors to set up Crowdfunds and projects, using their social media presence to promote these initiatives to the wider community. You can even gather your own “Period Packs” and donate them to local shelters for female residents.
My favourite way of helping women who are homeless is through hosting my own Bethany Afternoon Tea. Gather all your strong, empowering gal-pals and raise some money – and tampons – for women in need.
There are countless ways to help those sleeping rough across Scotland one sanitary product at a time.