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#InPoverty: What is there for the women who cannot afford period products?

Period poverty is a real issue in 2018. How is it being addressed and what are the options for the women affected?

Homeless men and women can stay at Tŷ Gobaith Lifehouse for a period of up to six months

Women and girls across the country are choosing between food and feminine hygiene products month after month.

With a pack of 10-15 sanitary pads costing around the £2.00 mark including tax, there are some vulnerable women and girls that simply cannot afford to menstruate.

In a recent article by the BBC, there has been a 13% increase in the use of Trussel Trust food banks in Wales over the last six months.

Trussel Trust banks distribute toiletries, including menstrual products, to those in crisis to help them to “feel human again.”

At The Salvation Army’s Tŷ Gobaith Lifehouse, a residential space for Cardiff’s homeless men and women aged 18+, they are equipped with sanitary pads and tampons.

The resettlement manager at Tŷ Gobaith, Nicola Walthorne, 58, said: “They [Tŷ Gobaith’s residents] know that we have donations, if they want to come and ask us for them they can but we will offer them.”

She explained that they get donations from hotels and companies that have changed branding and no longer circulate their old products. She did not mention any products sent in via the local council.

In March of this year, the Welsh government announced that they would be providing £1m in funding to help councils tackle period poverty.

The funding will go towards those who need it most, according to AM Julie James.

She described how some mothers are having to sacrifice their own well-being in order to buy their girls period products. It seems that the Government’s funding will be prioritised to these young girls in school.

Some, including The Vale of Glamorgan council, are going to install discrete bins in primary and secondary schools and provide the girls with free sanitary products.

Is this Government funding furthering single-use culture?

Is there an environmentally guilt-free solution?

It can take over 100 years for a plastic tampon applicator to degrade, according to The Guardian.

At Tŷ Gobaith, Nicola mentioned disposable period products only and when asked, said that the Lifehouse does not currently keep menstrual cups.

A menstrual cup, a bell-shaped silicone cup which holds up to 28.8 ml of blood (Mooncup brand), can serve as a reusable alternative to tampons.

“We would certainly think about offering them if we had them to offer,” Nicola added.

By comparison, a singular ‘super’ tampon will hold a maximum of around 12 ml.

Menstrual cups pose a potential solution to the high cost, both to the environment and spend-wise, of single-use tampons and sanitary towels.

While the purchase of a Mooncup brand menstrual cup would set you back £21.99, it is supposedly a one-off payment for a woman’s next ten years of periods. The Guardian claims that the cost of a period using single-use sanitary products can rack up to over £3.50.

Popular high-street pharmacy Boots labels their Tampax 36s (enough for around two periods or just under) as ‘only’ £4.00

In theory, menstrual cups are a money saving and environmentally conscious solution to periods for women below the poverty line; however, for homeless women it is perhaps not a viable option.

Homeless hygiene

To clean a menstrual cup requires soap, clean water and according to the Divacup brand, boiling water.

For many women living on the streets, regular access to these washing facilities is not guaranteed.

Started by entrepreneur Francine Chambers, the Divacup brand says on its website: “Limited access to clean water and health care services pose a serious health concern for [homeless] women as the cup cannot be properly cleaned or cared for and access to medical care is often lacking.”

Retired Cardiff based GP Patricia Howarth said much the same and described the cups as “not a good idea at all” for homeless women.

Non-applicator tampons aren’t hygienic either, she went on to say.

Ideally they [homeless women] need to be using either tampons or ordinary sanitary towels so they can be disposed of,” said Patricia, 62.

With or without menstrual cups, periods put these vulnerable women at risk of toxic shock syndrome.

“That’s dehumanising and unhealthy”

Last month, the Care2 worldwide community for “progress, kindness and lasting impact” said that menstrual products can be lacking in some homeless shelters and that women on the streets will resort to using products for longer than is recommended, or simply using toilet paper.

“That’s dehumanising and unhealthy,” they said.

While the Welsh Government is addressing period poverty within schools, some women, including the homeless, are still going to have inadequate access to feminine hygiene products.

Food and beauty bank usage is going to continue to rise and a reliance on donations will persist.

It seems the massive million-pound fund to “tackle period poverty” is only tackling the tip of the iceberg.  


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