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Menstrual Health Equality and Period Poverty

Posted on August 17, 2021

What Is Period Poverty?

“Period poverty” is an important issue - did you know many women don’t have access to safe, hygienic sanitary products or awareness of where to go for help?

Statistics from a Harvard University study show that there are nearly 22 million women living in poverty in the US that can’t afford items like pads or tampons. These individuals are first concerned with living day to day, and worrying about where they're going to sleep and eat; the problem of how they’re going to manage their period and bodily fluids is something they don’t have the convenience of preparing for until it happens. 

It’s important for everyone to understand that menstrual hygiene products are a necessity, not a luxury. When we think of menstrual health equality, we also have to take into consideration that homeless women of older age who no longer have periods sometimes have to rely on adult diapers, because they don’t have access to public restrooms and rely on diapers to take care of all of their bodily fluids. A new bill was recently proposed in Washington, DC to create public bathrooms within the city limits that are accessible in multiple areas to those in need. 

A Story

I have witnessed many women rely solely on Thrive DC’s menstrual products; however, two individuals stick out the most. Both individuals were/are chronically homeless, meaning sleeping in places not meant for habitation. 

During our Dinner Program one would come in with soiled adult diapers because she relied on them for all of her bodily needs during her time on the streets where bathrooms were not accessible or available because she looked a certain way, or could not afford to patronize a business to have access to their bathroom.  This individual would come into the women’s program to eat a hot meal and shower and request adult diapers. Sometimes, she would not come in for a few days and then we would discover she was wearing the same diaper she received from us days prior and it was heavily soiled.

I offered assistance with creating a hygiene kit “to go” but she would always refuse, telling me that she couldn’t carry the items along with her other belongings. The solution was that she’d promise me to come in daily to get fresh diapers and she agreed. The fact that this individual know that there is an organization in her community like Thrive DC that she can come in and take care of her hygiene is what I want the entire homeless community to be informed and aware of, they may not come in today or tomorrow, but by informing them we are here is what matters. 

Basic Physical Needs Are The Foundation Of Success

If individuals can’t take care of their basic needs it’s hard for them to think about bigger goals like finding housing or getting a job. A stepping stone to ending and preventing period poverty is that some states and cities across the nation including Washington, DC have made purchasing of menstrual products tax free, a right step in the right direction. 

I have witnessed many women rely solely on Thrive DC’s menstrual products. One individual would come into Thrive DC every month to retrieve feminine hygiene items, but she wasn’t interested in any other services despite us repeatedly offering them to her. She came in three months in a row until she finally asked “Can you help me obtain an ID?” 

She was hesitant to ask because she was living day to day, wondering where she would eat and sleep. However, once she felt that her basic needs were being met consistently, it was one less thing she had to worry about and she felt able to begin tackling her longer term goals. We hope that telling these stories will give others hope, knowing that they can walk in during business hours on any given day to receive these items and support at no cost with no judgements. 

You Can Help Women In Need

Thrive is always looking for menstrual pads and adult diapers. If you or anyone you know feels inspired to help by donating these types of products, or has an idea to help in another way, please reach out to our In-Kind Donations Coordinator, Rose Osburn through email rose@thrivedc.org or call at 202-503-1533.

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Washington, DC 20010
(202) 737-9311

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