We Can All Do Something to Reduce the Gendered Impacts of Homelessness
I’m kind of obsessed with period poverty. It baffles me that, especially in a country that boasts the NHS, such a basic medical, sanitary right has to be gone without by so many people due to insufficient funds. In a place where you can drop into a clinic and get free condoms, why is it that you must pay the luxury tampon tax?
Period poverty is much more common than you’d think – 40% of UK women have used toilet roll as a substitute due to low finances; this is neither a sanitary, comfortable, nor acceptable substitute! This kind of gendered poverty, worldwide, is just another factor in widening the gap between men and women. In countries like the UK, it means that young, poor women are losing out on that little bit of education, a week or so every month, which hugely builds up when compared to men whose education is not compromised by their pubescent bodily functions. But worldwide, over 1.2 billion women do not have access to basic sanitation, and in Kenya, 50% of school-girls have no access to monthly sanitation; Dr Penelope Phillips-Howard is quoted saying that these girls are “literally selling their bodies to get sanitary pads”. In fact, her research shows that 1 in 10 15-year-old girls admitted to doing this. This is sickening.
When we see campaigns to get basic human rights like clean drinking water, to those who need it, why do we not hear about the worsened impact of sanitary poverty on women? No human being should have to sell their body to afford something that prevents them covering themselves in blood, for 25% of the year.
This has to end.
As of last week, every school, college and university in Scotland will provide free sanitary products for its pupils, following a successful pilot in Aberdeen, and a YoungScot survey showing that around 1 in 4 pupils struggle to access sanitary hygiene products. It seems that Scotland understands the absolute necessity of young girls having access to these, as lack thereof means that girls are missing out on an education. 49% of girls, UK wide, have missed an entire day of school because of their period (this is not exclusive to those suffering from period poverty), and of this percentage, 59% have lied about why they cannot attend school, due to embarrassment about their taboo bodily functions. If this many girls are missing out because of periods full stop, imagine the percentage of those who cannot afford period products.
Women across the world are losing out on living their lives because of something so intrinsic to their nature, and, though Scotland is such an exciting, trailblazing start, there is so much more to be done. Every woman should have access to free sanitary products, because some of us are not so ‘lucky’ that this would only mean missing a day of school. For the girls in Kenya, for women who are not of school age, who clearly cannot afford to take the day off work, we must resort to much more damaging means of access, whether that be sticking toilet roll from public toilets inside our pants, or selling our bodies, in order to take care of said bodies’ natural functions.
Though it was only tiny in the relative scheme of things, last year I decided to get involved. The Monthly Gift Manchester is a scheme which collect sanitary products for Manchester’s homeless population, to give them access to this basic human right. I’ve followed their work for years, and decided that we could all mirror projects like this, in smaller scales in our home towns. Last year I held a collection box point in my University, and then took the sanitary products I collected to an Edinburgh homeless shelter, who told me that sanitary products are something that most food banks, and shelters, are hugely lacking.
This year, I’ll be holding the same collection point – in Potterrow in the University of Edinburgh – and I urge others to do the same. All it takes is a big cardboard box, an email to your Student Union, and an hour (max) of your time to take the collection to those who need it. People are so willing to donate, they just need a medium to do this through, and doing so hugely impacts the lives of so many homeless women. Imagine how much more difficult it is to find work, try and break out of the cycle of your homelessness, if you’re spending ¼ of your time bleeding into your clothes.
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