The periodic table of us

There’s a stigma around periods, period. A recent Irish Times article reports that 70% of young women have had to miss school due to period-related symptoms and most don’t feel comfortable discussing periods with male figures in their lives. Many don’t feel comfortable discussing them full stop. Periods happen every day for half the population, and menstrual cycles vary wildly depending on your contraception method, yet tampons and sanitary pads are taxed as luxury items and are priced as such. Periods are uncontrollable and volatile. No sick days are granted (that I’m aware of) for excessive PMS symptoms. Why is it still such a shameful subject to broach? Would anyone feel comfortable enough to call in sick to work and cite ‘my guts are in bits’ as the reason unless you have a massively understanding Female Boss? Even then, in competitive workplaces where women already may feel the need to manage their behaviours, or in more traditional spaces with little support, you run the risk of appearing ‘weak’ or ‘dramatic’ if requesting leave for a feminine issue.

Periods are as natural as any bodily function but come with great pain, huge financial burden and social stigma. They can be crippling, last for weeks or months for those using certain contraceptives, but there are very few support systems in place for women to manage them. Women experiencing extreme symptoms are regularly dismissed when they haul themselves in to seek medical help. We assume that things should hurt, and chalk everything down to period pain. Even working from home isn’t a PMS-specific solution and isn’t available to everyone. In order to continue producing humans, and more importantly keep our organs working, we’re going to need to empty the tank, often. But it can often feel like people are more disgusted by the idea of a period than they are by sexism, violence and assault. Many recoil in horror at the very suggestion of vaginal blood, and we’re still hearing period jokes when a woman shows the slightest indication of A Mood™. Boyfriends and husbands are applauded if they pick up a pack of Always Ultra for us in the shop. Half of the women I know would be mortified if a tampon fell out of their handbags in public. But it shouldn’t be this way, and we’ve been conditioned to feel a private shame that makes absolutely no sense. It’s only in the last two years that a real sanitary pad and red-coloured liquid have been used in advertising!

Period poverty can affect everyone from struggling families with mothers and teenage girls, to those with little to no disposable income. We’ve all had to use folded up tissue, kitchen roll or just our underwear in place of real menstrual materials when we’ve been stuck, but imagine always being this stuck. Recent studies by Plan International show that around half of young Irish women struggle to afford period supplies, and many still don’t understand how periods work. It’s no surprise that high costs are a barrier to accessing period products. When I was a student, half of my weekly budget would be gone on pads and painkillers. Sometimes, cheaper products just don’t do the job, and we shouldn’t be expected to settle for less than we so clearly need. It’s a matter of fundamental hygiene and dignity that anyone with a uterus has access to appropriate sanitary supplies.

Period poverty thrives when periods are still such a taboo subject, and this is a global problem. It’s easy to assume that after all this time of women existing, that this has been handled. But surprisingly, there’s a huge shortage of sanitary items available to homeless women and those of lower income or in Direct Provision. Often, we donate money, food, coffees and items of clothing in the odd Christmas Appeal box, but never realise how something so simple can be so needed. Period pads seem like such an everyday item, one that might already be supplied by the many homeless charities and organisations out there. This is where Homeless Poverty Ireland come in, the local branch of the Period Poverty movement, set up in 2016 in response to Dublin’s homelessness crisis. They’ve organised drop-off points with kind shops, chemists and women’s centres to collect sanitary items and donate them to homeless women and those in need.

When you’re picking up a pack of [insert choice of torture towel here] for yourself, why not consider buying an extra one for someone in need or on the streets? Maybe even throw in a packet of wet wipes if you’re feeling ‘luxurious’.

Then, drop off extra sanitary products you’ve collected to any one of the charities and companies that have agreed to take them. You can find the most up-to-date list of drop-off points on The Homeless Period Ireland’s Facebook or Twitter page, they’ve soundly set them as their pinned post. While most centres are based in and around Dublin, Bella Baby have branches in Galway and Cork, UL accepts donations and The Stormy Teacup in Limerick has recently become a drop-off point.  Many groups around Ireland have also gotten involved such as the Tipp Feminist Collective who have set up several collection points like The Green Sheep Café in Thurles. HPI also share brilliant articles and updates on their social media channels around period poverty and the global movement to eradicate it. I recommend checking out their Instagram (@homelessperiodireland).

Project Period (@thisisyourperiod) and Bloody Good Period (@bloodygoodperiod) are other accounts that are taking the movement to the max-i pad worldwide.


*Since publishing, there’s been a significant uptake in collection points and volunteers around the country. Please check out HPI’s social pages for the latest information.


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