#TheHomelessPeriod and the shame surrounding periods

By April Wilson – Contributing Writer

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.”

Credit: Binti

Credit: Binti

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 them. 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!

Credit: Binti

Rupi Kaur and Manjit K. Gill from Binti. In 2015 Binti was the selected charity when Rupi Kaur launched her book ‘Milk and Honey’. Credit: Binti

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, 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 w