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Scottish Charity Register No. SC043760

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Time to go with the flow

May 04 2015
Cardboard signs from the Homeless Period campaign spell out the harsh realities for women Cardboard signs from the Homeless Period campaign spell out the harsh realities for women
Pressure is mounting to make sure homeless women have free sanitary products

Two new campaigns have been launched in the UK with the aim of providing free sanitary products to homeless women.

Hayley Smith and Dermot McNamara established FlowAid early last month after discovering the lack of sanitary care or products available to homeless women. While some products are available at homeless shelters, supplies are often limited and run out quickly. And even if homeless women want to buy sanitary products (a choice which may mean forgoing food), it can be difficult to find cheap tampons or sanitary pads, thanks in no small part to the five per cent luxury tax.

“To think that condoms are available from several outlets for free, and sanitary ware is only accessible for those who can afford it is atrocious and slightly perverse. Women cannot help having periods. It is not a choice we have,” says Hayley Smith, managing director of Boxed Out PR agency.

Her co-founder, young entrepreneur Dermot McNamara, adds that homeless women currently have no choice but to simply deal with their periods by asking other women for sanitary products or using toilet paper. In some instances, however, this lack of access to sanitary care has led to an increase in criminal activity, including shoplifting and mugging. “Getting caught is bad enough, but getting caught stealing towels and tampons is humiliating,” says Dermot.

More concerning however is that without sanitary products, homeless women are at risk of developing health and hygiene problems. “Bad period hygiene can lead to health issues such as yeast infections and thrush. And antibiotics and creams are just as difficult to obtain,” says Dermot.

“It’s utterly atrocious that there isn’t any Government support for these women.”

FlowAid has already attracted a number of public figures, such as athlete Rachel Christie, Gogglebox’s George Gilby and award-winning æsthetics doctor Vincent Wong all pledging their support. The Big Issue and Women’s Refuge have also come on board. Hayley and Dermot are encouraging those who want to contribute to FlowAid to donate directly, organise fundraisers and petitions local MPs. Businesses can also help by collecting sanitary products by placing boxes in offices and receptions. All donations will go directly to women on the street or to homeless shelters.

Another campaign, the Homeless Period, has joined the cause, calling for the government to give homeless shelters an allowance to buy sanitary ware, in the same way they do for condoms. So far, almost 100,000 people have signed its petition.

Nicole O’Connor, who was previously homeless, told The Pavement: “When that monthly period starts you could even be on the street. I have been caught out a few times – realisation comes with that familiar warm ‘oops’. Now options are more limited than ever. Public toilet or shop toilet? Will I be able to wash my underwear? Do I have a spare clean pair? Have I got tampons or will I have to use toilet roll?

“I also developed toxic shock syndrome after using a tampon and forgetting about it for eight days, and was hospitalised for three days. Had I had the chance to shower or wash once a day, I might just have had the presence of mind to remove the item that was slowly poisoning me.”

In Glasgow, the Drumchapel Foodbank has launched a fundraising campaign to help provide necessary female sanitary items to women in the local and wider community who access the service.

Oonagh Brown, Foodbank development worker, said, “It is really important that foodbanks are able to provide a wide range of necessary items to individuals who access these types of services, not just food. Although food is vital, hygiene items are also needed”.

She added, “Sanitary items are extremely important to the women who attend the Drumchapel foodbank – they are a necessity. Without them, many women are forced to make their own and there are feelings of discomfort for many associated with this. I think it is really important that women also start talking about this issue and so that those accessing support services are not embarrassed to ask for these items. If a need is established, hopefully more agencies will be able to serve this need.”