My cheeks blush red as our lunchtime talk turns to periods. Yes, those cyclical bouts of blood sacrificed to your friendly neighbourhood sanitary bin.
Three girlfriends chatting about a topic which we know intimately. This afternoon, we’re not conversing about the glorious chest of Chris Hemsworth, but the ol’ shedding of the uterine wall. But not in a Sex-and-the-City brunch kind of way, although with a few cosmos one could begin to imagine we were on the 5th avenue of South-Western Sydney.
Our talk swaps chitchat about Christian Louboutins for the slightly less glamorous gossip of managing the menses. It’s not sexy. Certainly not carefree. But that’s exactly why we’re talking about it. Or more specifically, how best to help homeless women and transgender men when their period arrives. Like the first few days of a period, it’s a heavy topic. I order a regular cappuccino.
In a time when people still refer to a period as “that time of the month”, it’s clear that honest talk about menstruation still remains beyond the pale. It’s uncomfortable and awkward. A topic to be discreetly taken care of, given a cubical sized space within the realms of conversation. The Sydney Period Project is changing this by bringing women’s issues to the fore, expressly targeting the menstrual needs of homeless women and transgender men.
The charity, founded in October 2015, is spearheaded by four volunteer managers who rally for the dignity of the homeless while on their period. Balancing children, work and studies, their individual talents combine to create a well-rounded administration team.
Team member Kerry Smith, a medical representative from Kogarah, starts the flow of dialogue between the charity and distributing organisations. Not one to shy away from the realities of the homeless period, she refuses to tiptoe around the subject.
“I’m very blunt with how I talk about it. I talk about blood. I talk about periods. Because, that’s actually what’s happening… You see the [television] ads and they [periods] are all blue – it’s like, ‘Well, if I start bleeding blue blood I’m going to hospital!’,” bellows Ms Smith.
“We all bring a different skill set to things… Everybody has their strengths, and we all just pitch in together when we need to.”
The initiative is supported by over 80 volunteers across New South Wales. Each volunteer offers their home as a “drop-zone” location, where donations can be brought by members of the public. At present, an average of 12,000 sanitary items are donated each month. They are then bundled into paper bags on dedicated “packing days” to produce about 400 packs per month.
Alicia Giudice, a stay-at-home mum with three young kids, saw a post on the Sydney Period Project Facebook page at the start of the year for an admin role managing the IT side of the charity, and immediately jumped on board. The charity’s growth through its infancy has relied heavily upon social media, utilising paid posts on Facebook, and regularly posting to Instagram.
Ms Giudice explains that the charity has no target demographic for potential donors, as currently generosity extends from women as well as sons, brothers and fathers, who’ve all experienced periods indirectly.
“It’s good when they [men] are not afraid to jump in and talk about pads and periods,” she says.
“I think at the moment our biggest challenge is being known, people figuring out who we are, and getting people involved and onboard. Recognising that that this happens every month for people who are experiencing homelessness at whatever level,” agrees Ms Smith.
The Sydney Period Project creates five different packs, which are specific to the preferences and needs of its clients. The Sunflower pack contains 25 super tampons and five super pads, whereas its Rose pack holds 25 regular tampons and five regular pads. Its Poppy pack consists of mixed pads only, while the Tulip pack has mixed tampons. This is capped by the Hemlock pack, which caters to the individualised preference of transgender men. The charity aims to increase its current production by more than double within the coming year.
While the Sydney Period Project currently distributes its goods to charity organisations who target homelessness in the CBD, they hope to expand their presence across Greater Sydney with support from The City of Sydney Council.
“We’d like to build up to 1000 packs a month and if we can get more than that, even better. Or, if Sydney City Council is on board that gives us… scope to then move to other areas like the Western suburbs, Parramatta, Penrith, even the Inner West,” says Kerry Smith.
In a move that could see sanitary items offered for free in public buildings, Sydney Councillor Edward Mandla presented a motion to Sydney Council in late July that would place free sanitary items in council bathrooms. The benefits
of providing this scheme extend beyond homeless women, as all women who are working in all council buildings and using indoor and outdoor sporting facilities would benefit.
“There’s money for everyone and lots of talk about equality. But there’s little in practical leadership solutions,” he emphasised.
“Providing free sanitary products is a low-cost solution that ought to inspire corporations around Australia to follow suit.”
In the meantime, the Sydney Period Project is focusing on being anything but irregular, by supplying Sydney’s homeless women and transgender men with sanitary products every month.
Unfortunately, a one-off donation will only last one cycle, and as long as one’s ovaries are sitting pretty, the demand for sanitary items by Sydney’s homeless women and transgender men will still be as strong as ever. The Sydney Period Project stresses that consistency of donations is key to its growth, as it doesn’t have any support from companies, and is yet to secure a sponsorship deal.
“It’s a complex issue and there’s not an easy solution. Everyone says to us, ‘I never thought of it’ and we say, ‘Yeah we’re the same, we never thought about it either’. Until you bring awareness to people about it, then why would you think about it, unless you’ve experienced it?” reflects Ms Smith.
I’ve never viewed my period as something to be grateful for. But, each month is now a reminder about how lucky I am to have the means to purchase sanitary products, a home with clean clothes to change, a shower, and the privacy in which to shamelessly inhale carbohydrates when the sugar cravings hit. Perhaps next time you’re in the health aisle of your local supermarket, you’ll pop an extra pack of pads or tampons into your trolley for donation. It’s that simple, period. – Story and photos by Sinéad Fogarty.
Illustration by Ian Qu.