Our award-winning reporting has moved

Context provides news and analysis on three of the world’s most critical issues:

climate change, the impact of technology on society, and inclusive economies.

#TheHomelessPeriod and the shame surrounding periods

by April Wilson Binti writer | binti_period | Binti International
Tuesday, 17 January 2017 14:16 GMT

Image: Binti

Image Caption and Rights Information

* Any views expressed in this article are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

Periods. Most women have to deal with them for a large period of their life, yet we still don’t really talk about them. Perhaps we don’t want to recall some of the quite frankly mildly traumatising period moments I’m sure a lot of us as women have had. But there is also something deeper there, and that is a culture of silence.

The campaign #TheHomelessPeriod is trying to break that culture of silence by making periods something that is talked about. The tagline for their campaign highlights the point perfectly:

“It doesn’t bear thinking about…and that’s the problem.”

Although, the tagline is specifically referring to homeless people’s periods, and how the idea of not being able to have the proper sanitary products available is something a lot of us don’t want to think about; I think the tagline has wider implications. Especially, as on a broader scale, periods have become something that because we can’t bear to think about them; we don’t discuss them.

That is not to say discussions don’t happen. Yes, I’m sure a lot of us have shared some of our period horror stories with our friends. Myself included. Some of us may be able to talk honestly and openly about their periods. But a lot of women ever since we have got a period have felt a sense of shame surround it. Specifically, in the public forum.

I’m talking about when we hide our sanitary products in our bags, or up our sleeves, so no one will see us take them to the bathroom. Or those times I have tried to come up with a good reason to why I need to take my bag to the toilet, even though my friends were happy to look after it, which has led me on occasion to exasperatedly explain: “Never ask a woman why she’s taking her bag to the toilet. If you think about it the reason is kind of obvious." This utterance, however, was confined to if someone was asking this about a friend who was going to the toilet, not if they were talking about me. Even recently, I have experienced reluctance talking about periods in a public setting. When talking with my friend before class started one day she remarked on how I seemed shy talking about periods, more so than I did more ‘controversial’ topics, which I talked about a lot more freely.

Maybe I embarrass easily. I know that a lot of women do feel comfortable talking about their periods or periods in a public setting. Take, for example, Kiran Ghandi who bled freely while running the London marathon. Whether you find her actions ‘disgusting’ or not, you have to admit that she opened up the discussion on the taboo over periods. There is also, the artist, Rupi Kaur whose images depicting a woman, fully clothed but with a visible spot of blood between her legs, and on her bed sheets; was censored by Instagram- twice!

Despite the controversy, periods are becoming more talked about in mainstream media.

But what about what is still happening at large in society? When I was talking about the subject with the CEO and founder of the charity Binti, Manjit K. Gill (a charity which seeks for every woman to have dignity while on their period) she summed up perfectly that although many of us in the UK are lucky enough to have access to sanitary towels, there is still a shame surrounding it:

“One of the stories that I use is if I was in an office environment and you and I were speaking I would still whisper, ‘Do you have a sanitary pad?’ then I would take it from you, shove it up my sleeve and go to the toilet. So we haven’t changed anything really, have we? We have access to it, but we still hide from it."

Binti, as well as offering initiatives for women to have access to sanitary products in India and Africa also does a lot of work in the UK towards providing women with sanitary products and menstruation education:

“In the UK we work with organisations that provide either for the homeless or domestic violence shelters, and some in local communities. Also, we work with refugee camps. So what we do first, is that we run different initiatives to collect sanitary pads, and then we provide organisations with them. We also have now started going into schools and providing menstrual workshops.”

It is not surprising then that when providing homeless people with basic necessities, sanitary products are often overlooked, and homeless people are often too shy to ask for them. In a video produced by Bustle on YouTube showcasing how some homeless women in the US cope with their period, specifically New York, the women talked about all the other items they used because they could not have access to pads, ranging from socks to an old bleached tank top torn into strips!

However, as the video points out, a law has now been passed in New York, that requires public schools, jails, and homeless shelters to provide free pads and tampons. New York is the first US city to have such a law.

But, in the rest of the world this is something that is still being overlooked, which Manjit points out:

“I think what happens in times of war, for example, we remember that people need food and water and clothing, but we don’t, because it’s not talked about, think or realise that women need sanitary pads as well.”

The reason for this Manjit stresses is because of the culture of silence that still exists beside the period, due to the lack of conversation about periods:

“So yes, it is certainly overlooked and I think it is because we don’t talk about it.”

Even in advertising, Binti points out, menstrual blood is hidden from us. Instead, of pads being showed to absorb red liquid, they are seen to absorb blue liquid instead:

“I think the time where they showed blue liquid on television as a way of showing the absorbency of the sanitary pads is really dated, and we need more information.”

Something, which Binti have explored by advocating that we need to #SMASHSHAME in an adorable video where a young male student shows us that showing period blood is nothing to be ashamed of.

In mainstream advertising there are also hopeful signs of changing with Bodyform, which has ditched the blue liquid, and has a campaign video littered with real women bleeding and representations of real blood. This new advertisement was also part of Bodyform’s ‘Red.Fit’ campaign, which aims to provide more information for women on how to keep fit and active through their monthly cycle, and how your menstrual cycle affects your body throughout the month.

Having such an advert, you might not think tackles the issue of #TheHomelessPeriod, but the real issue is not just a lack of access to sanitary products. Because the real reason they are sometimes difficult to access is because periods are not something that is talked about. To tackle the #TheHomelessPeriod we also need to tackle the culture of shame.

You can support #TheHomelessPeriod by signing their petition to sanitary towel brands urging them to support #TheHomelessPeriod, or you can look online for your nearest foodbank and shelter and donate sanitary products to them.

You can support Binti through making a donation to their upcoming project in India, or by becoming a volunteer, or by talking on social media about periods and about the work Binti is doing. So that Binti can: “Create a new generation of girls that are talking about their periods and sharing their stories so that we can get to the point where we are smashing shame around it. So we can reach our mission statement.”

This article was initially posted on the Trident Media website and has been reposted here with permission.