Last year the public was infuriated when they realized that the infamous tampon tax classed tampons as a luxury item, which made them an even bigger expense for women everywhere. It is no doubt ridiculous, misogynistic, and just plain pig-headed. But what is not given enough attention is how this put sanitary products even more out of reach of the most vulnerable groups— especially the homeless. While most of us may be insulted by the tax, we can still afford to buy these basic necessities. We even taken for granted our ability to buy them. But for homeless women, it is just an added injustice and trial in a life full of injustices and trials.
The Homeless Period video highlights the lengths women who are homeless have to go through to deal with their cycles. As the video points out, men’s razors— a relative luxury– are far more available than sanitary towels or tampons for women. In fact, many items are more available. In the UK, for example, the government gives homeless shelters an allowance to provide condoms, but not sanitary items. Though giving out condoms is obviously imperative to preventing the spread of disease and unwanted pregnancy, sanitary items are a necessity. Menstrual cycles happen every month— there is no choice in the matter. Women don’t choose to have them, but they’re there. They are painful, inconvenient, and yes, very, very messy.
A Monthly Humiliation
And there is a huge feeling of humiliation when dealing with your period without sanitary products. Every woman who has thought they’ve bled through will have experienced it. The knot in your gut. There’s stress and panic and then a makeshift wadding up of toilet paper. It’s a horrific feeling. And that’s just for women who have forgotten to stock up— who have pack at home or the means to pick one up at the pharmacy without a second thought. Even for them, it can be humiliation and panic-inducing.
But imagine that feeling for the entire day, every day of every month that you bleed. Imagine that, combined with the instability, vulnerability, and fear of being homeless. Not being able to nip out and grab a box or have the spare change to buy them in a public restroom. Even worse, imagine having to choose between eating or having a pad. For millions of women around the world, that’s the reality.
So what do they do? Some rely on napkins or toilet paper from McDonald’s, fashioned into a makeshift pad. Some, as the video describes, use a washcloth or fabric available. The lucky ones will know someone they can try to ask for a tampon or a pad, if they can work up the courage. It’s inhumane, it’s unacceptable— and it happens all the time.
The Luxury Problem
It’s not just that they’re not considered a basic need. Instead, as the tampon tax upset showed, in many countries sanitary items are taxed as a luxury at up to 20 percent— making them more expensive and, therefore, even more out of reach for women without means. The idea that sanitary products are not being classed as a basic health care item is confounding. The idea that you are somehow treating yourself to a luxury by using some cotton wool to stop you from being covered in menstrual blood is insulting.
So what can be done? There are petitions around the world to remove the taxes, but don’t forget the more immediate need. The next time you donate food or blankets to vulnerable groups, don’t forget to include sanitary products. Or go online, right now, bulk buy and have them delivered to groups like Support The Girls who distribute products. It’s not something that any woman should have to go through alone, so if you’re someone who takes them for granted then it’s time to give back.