Many women know that certain feeling of dread which develops in the days running up to the start of our periods. This, paired with uncertainty of when it's going to spring itself upon us, holds us in a constant and panicked state of vigilance about our vaginas, lest it catch us unaware. We of course, have learnt to prepare ourselves by hoarding supplies in our bags and using them 'just in case'. Because for many of us this is such a normal part of life, we can take for granted the easy access that we have to sanitary protection. But have you ever spared a moment to think about the women who can't afford such basic sanitary items, now apparently considered by our current government to be 'luxury' products.
You may not remember the name of Kiran Gandhi, a fabulous twenty-six-year-old woman who completed the London Marathon in 2015. But you may remember her as the woman who chose to 'free bleed' throughout the whole race. Of course, this incited an array of mixed opinions, and Gandhi received a lot of backlash for this brave act, with people calling her 'gross' and 'disgusting as f***'. But what many people seemed to overlook were the reasons behind this act. Was she attention seeking? No. Is she just a crazy parody of a feminist? No, actually. One of the main reasons Gandhi chose to run without a tampon was to represent the women who live in poverty every single day, the women who can't afford to eat or drink, never mind buy sanitary products. Gandhi said:
"If you can't afford it then you can't conform, and you can't adhere to this societal norm of shaming and keeping everything quiet. And if you do bleed out, you will get punished, you will be socially ostracized, you will feel mortified."
We seem to forget that the ever growing number of homeless people in the UK includes an increasing number of homeless women, one of the most vulnerable persons in our society. It is a sad fact that many women become homeless to escape violence, and unfortunately those who are homeless are in constant threat of even more violence, sexual assault and exploitation, on top of the grueling daily reality of living on the streets. And unsurprisingly, many of these women still have their periods every month. But unlike those of us privileged enough to afford sanitary products, these women have no such luxury.
So, this is my challenge to you. Take a moment to try to imagine the reality of 'free bleeding' for 5-7 days, when you're out on the streets, with nowhere to sleep, nowhere to wash, no underwear or pads to change into. The thought seems truly horrendous, but it's happening right now. Women on their period shouldn't have to choose between tampons or food, it should never be one or the other. These women have enough to deal with without being subject to the discomfort and shame of free bleeding.
That is where the Time of the Month campaign comes in. TOTM is a campaign we have set up which intends to raise donations of sanitary products, baby wipes and clean underwear for women facing homelessness in and around Manchester City Centre. Lack of access to sanitary products might only be a small part of the daily challenges that homeless women face but I don't think we can underestimate the value of allowing women to maintain their comfort and dignity.