In the third of the NFWI resolutions to be presented to Sotonettes members for ballot, free sanitary protection for homeless women is discussed.
Sotonettes members are entitled to vote on this issue; for more information, click here, or download a handy booklet here. Or visit our Facebook page!
“We call upon WIs to campaign for homeless shelters to be provided with a funding allowance to enable them to provide sanitary protection (tampons and towels) for homeless women.”
The proposer’s intention is to ensure that homeless shelters adequately provide for the needs of homeless women with respect to menstruation in the same way they do for other items deemed essential and in doing so address a great inequity in how the needs of homeless women are currently assessed. While items such as condoms and razors are routinely provided to homeless shelters, sanitary ware is not consistently offered, meaning that women in shelters are often forced to choose between spending their limited income on food or sanitary towels. This resolution seeks to mobilise WI members to campaign for national and local authorities to make provisions within their commissioning arrangements to provide free sanitary protection for women accessing homeless shelters.
Outline of the issue
Homelessness is on the rise in the UK. Government statistics show that between 2011 and 2012 alone the number of people categorised as homeless grew by ten per cent and more troubling, the number of the people recorded as sleeping rough has risen by thirty-seven per cent over the last five years. At the same time as homelessness is rising, funding for support for the homeless is being cut at both local and national levels.
The homeless advocacy group and charity St.Mungo’s Broadway highlights that most services for the homeless are catered towards men, who comprise the majority of those homeless or sleeping rough. However, in 2013 women comprised slightly more than one-quarter (26%) of the homeless population, a significant percentage. Experts also believe that many more women are what they term ‘hidden homeless’, never encountering formalised support services. Yet, despite their high numbers, the funding for services targeted at women is woefully inadequate, disproportionate, and heading in the wrong direction. For example, the funding for support services for women actually fell from 12% of the total budget in 2011 to only 8% in 2013.
Why are women homeless?
Research from St. Mungo’s has concluded that ‘women who are homeless have a number of severe, interrelated and exceptionally complex problems which contribute to their homelessness and make recovery challenging.’ Their research into the life experiences of their homeless women clients has demonstrated that:
- 44% were the victims of domestic abuse (with 32% saying that their abuse contributed to their homelessness)
- 19% experienced abuse as children
- 70% had mental health problems (often stemming from their experiences of abuse)
- 48% had a substance abuse problem
- Over 33% had experience of prostitution
- 49% are mothers (79% of whom have had their children taken into care or adopted)
- 42% have an offending history
- 6% were pregnant
It is clear from the above figures that homeless women are a particularly vulnerable group of women, characterised by experiences of domestic or childhood abuse and poor mental health.
One Size Does Not Fit All
Women have unique needs as women that homelessness services are systematically and consistently failing to address. Homelessness services are often configured around the male service user, which helps explain why condoms and razors are often provided to homeless shelters free of charge for male use, but sanitary ware for female use is not. ‘Kits’ for the homeless that are donated often also include items for dental care and shaving, but not for when women have their periods. If shelters do provide sanitary ware, many women report feeling too embarrassed to ask for it. At the moment shelters can request condoms free of charge from the NHS, but sanitary ware is not considered to have medical utility so it is not freely provided by the NHS.
Arguments for the resolution
• If WI members don’t speak up for vulnerable women, no one will. Members have shown through past campaigning for women’s refuges that the WI can make a tangible difference in the lives of women displaced from their homes due to violence and abuse.
• The reality of menstruation for homeless women is often demeaning because their needs are not fully taken into account. This resolution seeks to rebalance the services shelters provide to better reflect the needs of women, while also educating members of the public that sanitary ware items should be donated to shelters along with other needed items.
• In addition to national campaigning, with the WI’s network of groups across England, Wales, and the Islands members could raise awareness and support efforts to ensure that local shelters have access to these products.
Arguments against the resolution
• A nationwide campaign was already launched earlier this year by three advertising agency interns who, shocked after reading an article about the humiliation and suffering if women on the streets, decided to take action. Their website- The Homeless Period- has secured over 100,000 signatures for their petition for free sanitary products.
• In the current fiscal climate, with cuts to shelters across the board, is now an appropriate time to call for this?
• Homeless women face a multitude of interrelated problems- should awareness and support be directed at those issues, such as poor mental health or sexual abuse, instead?
Groups to contact for further information
The Homeless Period
St Mungo’s Broadway
Griffin House, 161 Hammersmith Road, London W6 8BS
Tel: 020 8762 5500