Kelena Klippel

That dreaded time of the month. That rushed sequence of events when you bury the feminine products underneath the other groceries in your cart. Watching the products slowly roll down the conveyor belt, you just want to cradle yourself while eating a box of chocolates in the privacy of your room. Many women have grown into a society where, for centuries, the idea of menstruation was considered dirty and embarrassing. Now, with body-positive movements allowing women to embrace their cycles, inventions such as enhanced menstrual cups and a wider variety of tampons and pads fill the feminine hygiene aisles.

Design by Meryl Kornfield and Dalal Semprun
Design by Meryl Kornfield and Dalal Semprun

In light of this movement, several conditions were brought to public attention, such as the lack of feminine hygiene practice in many countries as well as in our own. There is always a lack of supplies and resources to correct this problem in both spectrums, but the newfound attention to the situation has brought about global support.

This dilemma isn’t as distanced from you as you might think. On January 29th, 2013, the city of Gainesville conducted an Annual Point In Time survey—a requirement under the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development. The survey, spanning two days, allotted a total of 987 unsheltered persons identifying as homeless. Of the 987, 873 agreed to be surveyed. Of the homeless population surveyed, 36.2% were female, and 1% was transgendered. In raw numbers, this breaks down to 316 women and 9 transgendered persons.

Keeping in mind that most of these women will menstruate each month for between two and seven days, the hygienic routine must be tightly enforced each day in order to ward off infection. This increased risk of infection takes place due to the mucus (that usually blocks the cervix) opening during the cycle in order to allow blood to exit the body, making it possible for bacteria to travel into the pelvic cavity and uterus. Also, changes in vaginal pH during this time make yeast infections more likely.

There are three fundamental habits to maintain a healthy body during a woman’s menstrual cycle, most of which are difficult to access in the homeless population– washing regularly, washing correctly, and changing the products often:

  1. Bathing at least once a day to keep the body clean and odor-free.
  2. Since the vagina is more sensitive than other parts of the body, it requires a different kind of wash. Never use normal soap, douches or shampoo on the vaginal area, which can upset acidity.
  3. Continual use of the same sanitary napkin or tampon increases a woman’s risk of infection and the much heard about toxic shock syndrome (TSS). Also, a prolonged exposure to damp sanitary pads can irritate skin, which can eventually become broken and susceptible to infection.

Since there are only 350 beds for homeless individuals available on any given night, imagine the limited access to restrooms and showers. Many homeless shelters require forms to be filled out before the usage of their restrooms — a homeless individual would have to fill out a blue card for police clearance and then wait for approval. Clearance is provided if the individual is free of arrest warrants and is not registered as
a sexual offender or predator. The hassle of paperwork (which is entirely for the safety of other sheltered individuals) and limited access to restrooms provide an environment that presents many obstacles to Gainesville’s female homeless population.

Where do we go from here? PRISM is holding a drive for feminine hygiene products this semester. Bring tampons and pads to any of our tabling events, and we’ll make sure all proceeds will go to the St. Francis House. (like PRISM: UF Honors Program Magazine on Facebook for upcoming dates)

Please stop by our product drive at the Plaza of the Americas on Monday, October 12, from 10 AM to 2 PM!