Totally Absorbed: The Homeless Period

Getting your period sucks. No matter how much comfort food you wolf down, how many painkillers and hot water bottles at the ready, or how many pairs of faded granny undies and sanitary products sitting in anticipation in your cupboard, that time of month is unlikely to be enjoyable. For the homeless however, getting your period is often more than unpleasant – without access to the necessary products, it can be a harrowing and degrading experience.

Feminine hygiene products are essential– periods are, after all, wholly unavoidable; a biological regularity. Australian law nevertheless classifies them as “luxury items”: unlike condoms, nicotine patches, incontinence pads and various other items, sanitary products are not exempt from the GST, a 10% tax imposed on “luxuries.” Pads and tampons are expensive: a 14-pack of regular Libra Pads with wings costs $6.37 from Coles; a box of 20 regular Tampax tampons costs $7.15. This adds up even for the average Australian of comfortable means – but for those who can’t afford food or shelter, feminine hygiene products are unlikely to make the shopping list at all.

Unlike the individual consumer, homeless shelters are afforded charity status, allowing them to claim back GST on the goods they purchase. They are fully funded by the ACT and Commonwealth governments through the National Partnership Agreement on Homelessness (NPAH); however this does not specifically provide for the purchase of feminine hygiene products. Although some shelters are able to purchase a limited quantity of pads and tampons as part of their general service provision, their budgets are often stretched to the limit: some cannot find the funds to incorporate them into their expenses at all; those which can are unable to do so in sufficient numbers. For many living on the streets, the only (legal) option remaining involves a trade-off between food and sanitary items.

Under these deplorable circumstances, many of Australia’s homeless are consistently forced to go without essential hygiene products. They will often resort to rolled-up toilet paper from public toilets in lieu of pads, in a last, desperate attempt to prevent the humiliation and inconvenience which will inevitably ensue if the blood seeps through their garments. If it stains despite their efforts, they do not have ready access to fresh underwear or soap with which to wash their clothing. Washing in public toilets can be dangerous and frightening, particularly at night and in areas with a high prevalence of sexual assault. Privacy becomes a luxury.

Even if they are somehow given access to tampons or pads, the homeless may be unable to visit toilets as frequently as they might need. Changing at regular intervals may be difficult, conceivably leading to precarious and even potentially life-threatening bacterial infections such as toxic shock syndrome.

Feminine hygiene products are vital items which everyone, including the homeless, should have access to. With this in mind, the ANU Women’s Department launched our first Pad and Tampon Drive, Provide for Periods: It’s Bloody Essential at the beginning of Term 2, with the aim of providing some relief to those receiving assistance from Toora Women Inc. Toora supports and rehabilitates women who have been made homeless after emerging from violent and abusive relationships – women who (even more than the rest of us) have enough on their plates without the burden of dealing with their next period sans sanitary products. The next time you go shopping, keep in mind the difficulties faced by Canberra’s homeless and buy a packet of pads or tampons to give to this cause. Alternatively, donate any change in person or online to help fund the bulk purchase of feminine hygiene products for these shelters – just $2 can buy 11 tampons, or 5 pads, when bought in bulk.

With the 2012 ABS Census of Population and Housing estimating that roughly 46 300 women are homeless in Australia, it is clear that not enough is being done to provide those in need with the products required to handle their periods. Specific funding must be provided to shelters to purchase such goods. Furthermore, our government needs to start treating feminine hygiene products as necessities instead of luxuries. Condoms and other goods are exempt from GST for good reason; why aren’t pads and tampons?

Make a donation online at gofundme.com/padsntamponsdrive
Find the drop off boxes in the Brian Kenyon Student Space and Rapunzel Room, to donate a gold coin or box of pads/tampons.