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Want To Help Homeless Women? Donate Tampons. Periods On The Street: Hardships No One Talks About

October 5, 2016

The biology of periods is a subject most often taught to girls in the 4-5th grades, how to keep clean, how to not smell, how to keep it a secret… Young girls are taught to keep periods to themselves, and while we all know that life is messy, period blood can be a challenge to manage when women are homeless.

Aid agencies seek donations to send period products to girls in Africa, to help keep them in school when they would otherwise be relegated to staying home simply because they have no means of managing a period. provides pads for girls in Africa. Church groups provide homemade pads that can be rewashed and reused, because when there is no trash service, how does one dispose of bloody pads that may attract predators, animal and human alike?

Donating menstrual products to girls and women in Africa directly contributes to educating those young women. That message has been broadcast loud and clear over the internet, so why don’t people know that women here in the US need the same type of support for their basic bodily functions? Women menstruate. While we accept it as a fact of life, so few people talk about it.

Tampons and sanitary pads usually top the list of needs at shelters, since they’re pricey and supporters don’t often donate them, social workers told Al Jazeera. Compounding the issue is the fact that clean showers are also scarce, and not washing during menstruation can lead to infections.

It’s a desperate situation that many homeless women feel resigned to accept.

“I’ll never be clean,” a young woman living on the streets of San Francisco once told Doniece Sandoval, the entrepreneur behind Lava Mae, a mobile shower program, according to Nation Swell.

Maribel Guillet, 36, is all too familiar with that despondent feeling.

Guillet, who lives in a Bronx, New York, homeless shelter, typically menstruates for about 10 days and experiences heavy bleeding, she told Al Jazeera. But because of the shelter’s strict restrictions, she can’t always use the restroom as often as she needs to.

For women, it’s a human rights issue to be able to access hygiene products, and one that isn’t discussed as frequently as it should be. One could rant against the expense of being a woman, the fact that there entire companies that make money off of women’s vulnerability here, or one could focus on a company that is already stepping in to help women living in shelters deal humanely with what is a fact of life for women, having a period.

Feminine hygiene products can be unaffordable for many low-income women ― costing up to $18,000 over a lifetime. For homeless women and other women living in shelters, menstrual products are particularly hard to access, as shelters often don’t get enough pad and tampon donations to meet the need.

“Some women have to choose between spending money on menstrual products, or buying basic necessities for their families,” Kier said.

As part of its new program, LOLA is working with three organizations ― Distributing DignitySupport the Girls, and Simply the Basics ― which are all dedicated to collecting and distributing period products to women in need.

The company will send menstrual products to the organizations each quarter ― currently just tampons, but eventually pads and liners as well. The groups will then distribute the products to a network of shelters they work with, serving women and girls in need.

LOLA will give to more than 100 shelters in 27 states in its first year, company representatives said, and it aims to expand to eventually reach all 50 states.

“This is a really big issue in the U.S,” Friedman said. “There’s generally a lot of attention on need abroad, but there are a lot of women here at home who need these products, and can’t access them.”

Hmm, $18,000 is a car, a college education, a decent portfolio investment, a child’s education, and the price of tampons. Perhaps when we look at economics for women, things like this should be taken into account. Men will never divest themselves of $18,000 for a bodily function like this over the course of their lives.

It’s interesting to note, too, that when I had a family member serving overseas and asked the chaplain what I could send to help other soldiers, the overwhelming response was: pads and tampons. Women serving overseas often have no choice over sanitary products they use, have no way to acquire their favorite pad or tampon, or whatever works best for their bodies, and so sending choice products is greatly appreciated. When I heard that, I contacted friends and family members and asked them to please put together their favorite products to ship overseas to our troops, and I got an overwhelming response. Women donated by the box load. Something so simple, a choice in period products is unavailable to women living in institutional settings, from shelters, to barracks.

Perhaps it’s time to reframe the issue as  “women’s issue,” to a human rights issue, basic supplies for women shouldn’t be something unaffordable.

Other companies are following suit, but keep in mind, there are some men out there who actually enjoy demeaning women and making money off their menstruation, just for the record…

Menstrual hygiene companies Conscious Period and Cora, for instance, both give a supply of pads to women in need for every unit of tampons sold. And in June, New York City announced free menstrual products for all public schools, shelters and jails.

Still, the battle for affordable periods remains an uphill one: Last month, California Gov. Jerry Brown vetoed a bill that would have eliminated the sales tax on tampons.




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