Gender, Love, Justice

These women don’t have access to pads or tampons, and we don’t even know it

The topic of menstruation is simply too taboo.

As a writer and a person who cares about social justice issues, I read stories that make me cry quite often.

I have spent a countless number of hours at my computer, wiping away tears after reading something heartbreaking. Occasionally, I take breaks from social media and the news as a form of self-care, but it can never last long. I need to stay on top of the news, both as part of my job and because I feel that it is my responsibility as a human to bear witness to the troubles of the world, even if I’m personally powerless.

And then, there are some injustices that I read about that just seem so… fixable that I cannot forget about them, even months after clicking that little red “x” and trying to move on with my day. Those are the times when I feel like even little old me, with my busy schedule and limited funds, can try to do something.

A few months ago, several of my favorite publications posted stories about how difficult it is for homeless women to get access to feminine hygiene products. The reason? They are expensive and most people simply do not think to donate pads and tampons to their local shelters. People realize that shelters need their time, financial donations, new or gently used clothes and nonperishable foods, but not that the women who depend on assistance from these organizations might need a pack of Kotex during that time of the month.

The stories were heartbreaking. Women described feeling unclean and depressed every month. Crowded shelters have to restrict bathroom time, making it difficult for them to go when necessary. Shelters routinely request donated pads and tampons, but never seem to get enough. The good-hearted people who send them supplies don’t think to donate them.

According to reports, some homeless women were too ashamed to talk about their need of tampons or sanitary napkins. The topic of menstruation is simply too taboo.

The good news? I’m not the only one who was struck by this story. There are several groups that collect feminine hygiene products for women in need, including Distributing Dignity and the Time of the Month Club, and because many low-income women cannot afford the pricey products they need during their periods (and that SNAP does not cover tampons or pads), some people are suggesting that the topic of menstrual health should be a major issue during the 2016 U.S. presidential elections.

In Washington, D.C., some members of the local government are looking for legislative solutions to the issue. Last week, Councilmember Vincent Orange, (At-Large, D) introduced two bills that could potentially help homeless Washingtonians: “Women in Need Program Amendment Act of 2015” and the “Mobile Hygiene Pilot Program Amendment Act of 2015.”

According to the press release, “The ‘Women in Need Program Amendment Act of 2015′ would establish a program within the Department of Human Services to provide menstrual products to shelters for homeless women, as well as increase the supply of menstrual products for women in custody at the Central Detention Facility, the Correctional Treatment Facility, and halfway houses.”

If it passes, D.C. will be the first major city in the U.S. to introduce legislation that addresses this persistent problem.

The “Mobile Hygiene Pilot Program Amendment Act of 2015” would be a “mobile hygiene unit,” similar to the Lava Mae program in San Francisco and Group 70 International’s repurposed buses-turned-mobile showers in Hawaii. Orange’s proposed legislation would create a pilot program that will provide homeless D.C. residents with clean toilets, showers and toiletries.

Interested in starting your own pad and tampon drive to help support homeless women? The folks from the Time of the Month Club wrote an amazingly helpful list of tips to start a drive in your own city. The first step? Talk to a local women’s shelter.

“Connect with the executive director or volunteer coordinator and tell them what you want to do. This is important because when you solicit donations, you will want to say where the donations will be going. So having a shelter on board, basically saying that you can use their name in your asks, is essential. In my case, I told people that donations would be going to women at Cathedral Center, Inc. in Milwaukee. This gave donors confidence that their contribution would end up in the right place.” Read the full list here.

We hear bad news constantly. There are wars brewing and raging, Europe is struggling to figure out how to handle a devastating migrant crisis and #blacklivesmatter activists still have their work cut out for them. It’s good to know that this is one problem we can actively try to help fix.