Our Squeamishness About Menstruation Is Endangering Women in Need

Getting your period as a woman is uncomfortable.It's cramps and irritability and countless treks to the bathroom.But getting your period as a homeless woman — that's hell.It's wadded up socks and ruined pairs of pants and washing yourself with a cup full of water behind a tent in the woods.There are more than 1,000 homeless women in Dallas, and each month many face a battle against their own biology. They don't have pads. They don't have tampons. They don't have safe places to shower. Their only tools are their own creativity and resilience in the face of a problem created by our own evolution.It's a monthly struggle that's not only uncomfortable but perilous. And while they become susceptible to the dangers of toxic shock syndrome, we continue to enjoy box after box of tampons and pads and shelves stocked with Midol and Pamprin — unaware of the trials homeless women face every month.And our prejudice against periods prevents us from paying attention. It's something women talk about but usually under the refuge of hushed voices. We don't talk about our periods or cramps in public or in the presence of men, and God forbid we mention tampons or pads in an audible tone. Instead, we tuck them up our sleeves as we walk down the office hallway or bury them deep into the depths of our purses. Hidden. Undisclosed. Unmentionable.Ultimately, we've been primed by society to be afraid and ashamed of menstruation, and it's keeping us from helping women in need.Christina Isom, 42, lives in a tent off of Military and Forney. She's been homeless since 2004, or in cyclical terms, for about 150 periods."I still get my monthly every month, and it's hard because those days are days where I'm feeling the worst. Walking around, cramping and hurting is bad enough with the aches that you have from sleeping on the ground," Isom said. "What's harder to get is medicine when you need it for pain. If I can afford it, I can get me a bottle of Pamprin or Tylenol, and when I can't, you just gotta tough it out."Isom is one of the luckier ones. She works three days a week at OurCalling, a discipleship and homeless outreach center founded by Pastor Wayne Walker. Among other services, the center offers feminine hygiene products to any woman who asks. It's provided Isom with supplies, such as pads, and services like free laundry that make having her period more bearable.But the center's openness about menstruation doesn't mute the shame Isom feels.Isom is often embarrassed to openly ask for feminine hygiene products, she said, so she usually whispers what she needs to one of the other women who works at the center."Feminine hygiene is really difficult to get people to donate — pads, wipes, all of that stuff. People don't think about it," Walker said. "You take a woman who's struggling on the streets. ... It's another level of hell. Their humanity is being ripped away by a lack of dignity."  Continue reading...

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