Periods are shite at the best of times. Imagine dealing with them on the street, where hot water bottles, painkillers and basic sanitary protection are elusive. Sam Wonfor talks to one of the founders of a campaign hoping to change at least the latter.
If you’re a woman who has periods, there’s a decent chance you’ve had to employ resourcefulness when it comes to making sure you’re not leaving a scarlet calling card on every seat you grace with your arse at ‘that time of the month’.
Getting caught short when Aunty Flo pops in for her monthly catch-up (still talking about periods, kids, not the fictional character from Bod) is something we’ve all dealt with.
Bunched up toilet paper, a rolled up pair of tights, a sock, a handful of carefully sequenced eye makeup remover pads and those café napkins with the absorbency of a Wellington boot all featured when I asked a group of mates what they’d resorted to over some of the 3,000 days your average women will menstruate for during her fertile life.
How we giggled at those one-off situations, which required a stop-gap sanitary substitute until we got to a chemist, a toilet vending machine or home to sort ourselves out.
And then we remembered what had prompted the question.
I was writing something – this – about a recently launched initiative: The Homeless Period, which is campaigning to have tampons and towels made available through homeless shelters in a similar manner to how the Government provides free condoms.
Since launching in March, a petition asking for shelters to get an allowance to buy sanitary products for women has been signed by almost 100,000 people.
It came about after ad agency colleagues Sara Bakhaty, Oliver Frost and Josie Shedden were looking for around for social issues which needed creative solutions.
“For most women, you see it as an essential item and the thought that for some it is not, is quite a powerful one.”
They came across an article in Vice magazine that put the rarely talked-about reality of what homeless women do when they get their period front and centre. “Two things struck us when we started talking about it,” explains Sara. “Firstly, ‘Oh my god, I’ve never thought about that before.’ It’s something I would never consider not buying, because it’s a need. It’s not an option. In your everyday life you just don’t think about it. That realisation was a powerful one for all of us, but probably more so for me and Josie as women.
“Secondly, it was the conception that rough sleeping is a male issue, which it’s not. Twenty-six per cent of people who access homelessness services are women.
“Those two things were the starting point. After that we thought, ‘Let’s put it out there and see what happens.’ After three or four months talking about it, you’re really passionate about it and think there’s something there, but in truth you don’t know until you put it out there and see what everyone else thinks.”
After doing some research and connecting with a homeless shelter, The Homeless Period produced a short film featuring a woman talking about what it’s like to deal with a period when you’re homeless and don’t have access to basic sanitary products.
“For most women, you see it as an essential item and the thought that for some it is not, is quite a powerful one,” says Sara. “Of course people can be quite resourceful, but it just doesn’t seem right that people need to be resourceful as a matter of course.
“In terms of what we were expecting, we hoped that people would watch the film, share it and sign the petition. In the short term, we wanted to inspire people to donate and make connections with a local shelter.
“And it seems to be happening,” she continues. “The thing that we’ve been excited about is that a lot of people have been starting their own crowdfunding campaigns or asking how to donate as well as signing the petition. For us, that’s a really powerful part of what has happened since we launched.
“Of course people can be quite resourceful, but it just doesn’t seem right that people need to be resourceful as a matter of course.”
“Also, we were very specific in thinking about rough sleeping, but I think it does go wider than that. There are a lot of people in the UK who are on extremely low incomes, and it’s not a cheap item. So there’s lots to consider there as well.” (See Standard Issue’s recent feature on the Bloody Disgrace campaign to cut VAT on sanitary products.
When it comes to longer term ambitions for The Homeless Period, Sara and the team are the first to admit this is uncharted territory for them, but that hasn’t stopped them from having clear ideas about what they’d like to achieve. “We’re not campaigners; this isn’t something we have a history of doing, but it’s really exciting to see that people aren’t turning away from it. They are retweeting and sharing.
Although Sara says the campaign have approached manufacturers with the hope of them becoming part of the solution, she adds, “It’s early days. There’s a redistribution charity in London called In Kind Direct that works with 7,000 charities and redistributes a whole host of products from manufacturers.
“They sell them to the charity at 10 to 20 per cent of the retail price to cover their costs, but they rely very heavily on the manufacturer having some available to donate.
“In my mind, there seems like a really obvious parallel with the Pampers campaign where when you buy one, a mother somewhere else gets one,” she continues. “For me, that seems like an obvious route for a brand to go down. And I know this would be something that would motivate me to change what I buy for myself.
“Ultimately though, it’s great to see people connecting with their local shelters. If the people who have been inspired to do that continue to do that, then I feel like we will have done something good.”
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