Interview with Claire Hunt by Evelyn Flynn.

Evelyn Flynn, a medical student from Dublin, sat down with Homeless Period Ireland’s Claire Hunt to talk period poverty. 

EF: What is Homeless Period about? How did it come about?

CH: In December 2016, the Homeless Period Dublin initiative was born with a view to helping women and girls who found themselves unable access to basic sanitation and female hygiene products every month. In 2017 I took over the general management of the Homeless Period Dublin initiative.

A social media campaign was launched to highlight this issue. Through this campaign it became apparent that this was a national issue. Emanating from this campaign, a decision was made to rebrand the initiative to Homeless Period Ireland (HPI). This rebranding aimed to help create awareness nationally and, more importantly, increase the number of drop-off points (places were the general public donate female sanitary and hygiene products) as well as increase nationally reach the frontline services that have direct access to the women in need.

The aim of Homeless Period Ireland is to donate period products (pads, tampons, liners, wipes) to those who otherwise would go without.  The donations are brought by volunteer drivers to homeless outreach centres, direct provision centres and women’s refuges. The Homeless Period Ireland is an initiative, not a charity, and is 100 per cent reliant on volunteers for distribution and collection of sanitary products.

EF: Period poverty is clearly global, but why is it such a problem in Ireland in particular? 

CH: It’s no secret that Ireland has a severe homelessness problem. This has never been properly addressed by successive governments. It was only a matter of time before the issue of homelessness became a national scandal, which I believe it now has, and people are now starting to talk about it. 

Period poverty is just one aspect of overall poverty, but it is a subject that no-one wanted to talk about until recently. There are also women and children who are spending years in direct provision centres with no access to products. These are just some of the most vulnerable in society and are easily forgotten. What Homeless Period Ireland aims to do is make a small difference in people’s lives who find themselves in difficult situations. It is one less thing to worry about.

EF: What should the government be doing on period poverty? What are your demands? 

CH: It’s rather simple. Free access to sanitary products in all publically owned facilities including schools, universities, prisons, direct provision centres and refuges. We have seen great strides made in Scotland, England and Wales in this regard and our politicians are starting to sit up and take notice.

In fact, a motion was recently passed in the Dáil by a cross -party female caucus on this very subject. We hope that the Minister for Finance makes the appropriate provisions to roll out a scheme where free products are provided in the next budget.

EF: Homeless Period Ireland seeks to mitigate the undignifying results of period poverty, but what are its causes? 

CH: Period poverty stems from poverty itself. However, this is a female-only issue and traditionally the men in our society would not discuss a topic like this. Over time a taboo has surrounded the subject of periods as they are viewed as “icky” or with disgust. However, periods are a women’s health topic and should be treated as such. Until we can change people’s mindsets, the issue of period poverty will never be properly addressed. After all, without periods, there is no human race.

EF: There are many different menstrual products out there, how does your initiative ensure good quality products for everyone? Is there a problem with some cheap brands? 

CH: Homeless Period Ireland is happy to accept products for distribution regardless of the brand and the women who benefit from the public’s generous donations would say likewise. However, we have seen in some instances that certain brands are not fit for purpose and end up being a false economy.

We would advocate that when the Minister of Finance hopefully makes provisions in his budget for the supply of products that good quality products are sourced. Women also have different needs each month with some needing better products to keep themselves properly protected. As the old saying goes, “buy cheap, buy twice”.

EF: Periods are still extremely stigmatised. What’s your vision of world free of period-shaming? What does that look like? 

CH: We need to normalise periods and that starts with education – we need to educate both girls and boys about periods. We also need to see products more available in schools, universities, sports stadiums, etc. Availability and visibility of period products will help to break the stigma. 

EF: Homeless Period Ireland really hits home on the particular challenges of combating period poverty for homeless women in particular. Can you explain a bit more the particular challenges faced by homeless women in relation to period poverty?

CH: Imagine you stepped in a puddle. Your sock is wet, and your shoe is wet. You are far from home, so you have to walk around all day with your wet sock and your wet shoe with the cold seeping into your skin and bones. Your friends may mock you because you were so silly to step in the puddle in the first place so you say nothing. Imagine that happens for up to seven days in a row … and that it will happen again next month. That, sadly, is the reality for a lot of women experiencing period poverty.  

Claire Hunt runs Homeless Period Ireland and Evelyn Flynn is a medical student with an interest in women’s health. Follow Evelyn on Twitter @EvelynCFlynn.

You can follow Homeless Period Ireland on Twitter @HomelessPeriodD and on Instagram @homelessperiodireland.

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