In Australia approximately 116,427 people are homeless, according to the 2016 census. 42% of this number are women. Sleeping on the streets can be incredibly tough, with both your physical and mental health constantly on the line. However, one aspect of homelessness for women that is not often discussed is what happens when a woman sleeping rough gets her period each month? How on earth does she handle the added inconvenience and stress, on top of what is already an extremely difficult place to be in life.
Often without employment and income, women experiencing homelessness are at times forced to pick between essential items such as food and sanitary products like pads and tampons. The situation is even more dire for women sleeping rough who not only may not be able to afford to purchase sanitary products, but also lack easy access to shower and laundry facilities to wash themselves and any soiled clothing items.
Sounds like pretty terrible conditions to be dealing with every single month. This is where organisation’s like Essentials for Women and Share the Dignity come in. Share The Dignity is an Australian women’s charity aiming to provide homeless women, as well as victims of domestic violence, with thousands of pads, tampons and other personal hygiene products each year. As their name suggests, they provide at risk women with the small but important dignities that so many of us in more fortunate positions take for granted. Twice a year the charity conducts Dignity Drives, where sanitary products are collected from communities all over Australia and then donated to registered charities that assist women in need. Each November Share The Dignity also collect handbags filled with women’s essential personal care items and distribute them as Christmas gifts to women who need them most. More recently, the charity has also been involved in placing free pad and tampon vending machines in schools and public toilets in areas where the need for such facilities has been identified. Like TABOO, Share The Dignity believes that no girl should have to miss school because of a lack of access to sanitary products. The Dignity vending machines are funded through cash donations and corporate sponsorship.
Essentials For Women is an Adelaide based charity that, similarly to Share The Dignity, provides sanitary products and other personal care items such as underwear, to women experiencing homelessness or domestic violence. The charity has a passion for helping to empower and enhance the wellbeing of the most vulnerable women in the community. This is done through collecting pads and tampons throughout the year through donation bins at several locations across South Australia. Once each donation drive is completed, The Essentials For Women team create Period Packs. Each pack contains pads, overnight pads, liners and of course, some chocolates. We all know how necessary a little sugar hit can be when Aunt Flo visits! The Period Packs are then distributed to women who are homeless, at risk of becoming homeless, victims of domestic violence, recently arrived asylum seekers, or any woman experiencing poverty. Some of the organisations they have supported with their donations include Catherine House and Hutt Street Centre. To date Essentials For Women has received over 500,000 donations from South Australians.
Some will say that as young people or, dare I use the phrase ‘millennials’, we are living in a time of excess like the world has never known before. We are used to having our every want and need met immediately. Our every whim instantly catered to. It is because of these privileges it can be so easy to forget that what is essential to one, is a luxury to another. Perhaps it is time to consider donating even just one box of pads or tampons to charities like Essentials For Women or Share The Dignity, instead of ordering your next soy latte.
Words by Alicia Franceschini