Greetings! We’re Tori Contreras and Sarah McNutt, two OHSU Accelerated Bachelors of Science in Nursing students. We’re currently studying population nursing. We are stationed at the MacDonald Center (http://www.macdcenter.org) working with their center’s members as well as coordinating care of individual clients. It was through our experience with this population that our Population Health Project was born!
As women ourselves, we feel a duty to empower and serve women experiencing homelessness. Menstruation, a natural process that serves as a physical sign of a woman’s health & fertility, is often viewed as a taboo topic surrounded by embarrassment, shame, and fear. We hope to break this taboo by bringing forth the struggles that women experiencing homelessness must face monthly to our peers and other health-professionals.
There is an extraordinary lack of research into menstrual hygiene management (MHM) and the effect of limited access to feminine hygiene products (FHP) in the homeless women population. Even enormous books devoted to homeless women’s health did not mention menstruation. Women in poverty or experiencing homelessness may resort to unhygienic menstrual material, such as tissue paper, newspaper, or old clothing items found on the streets or from shelters, which in turn may be reused, leading to urogenital infections like bacterial vaginosis or a urinary tract infection. Inadequate MHM has also been associated with reproductive tract infections, which can affect future reproductive health, and has been linked to an increased incidence of cervical cancer, HIV/AIDS, infertility, and ectopic pregnancy. Additionally, unhygienic washing practices are particularly common among women in a low socio-economic group. As you can see, the public health implications are astronomical!
Evidence has shown that interventions that ensure women have access to private facilities with water for MHM, and that educate women about safer MHM materials, such as disposable pads and tampons, and where to acquire these products, have been shown to reduce urogenital disease among women. Thus, for this project, we identified FHP services for women experiencing homelessness, aimed to increase their supply of FHP, and hope to increase utilization and access to them.
It was through our research into the services that provide FHP to women experiencing homelessness that we discovered the amazing Camions of Care organization. After discovering that many shelters, food sources, and shelters are still in need of an enormous supply of FHP (see Figure 1), we decided that we wanted to not only host a drive at OHSU School of Nursing to increase the supply of FHP for COC, but we wanted to connect COC to the organizations that they are currently not partnered with to try to increase the locations serviced by COC.
All women truly should have the right to safe, clean, and accessible feminine hygiene products. Think about it this way: could YOU imagine yourself or a loved one having to reuse a tampon? What about having to choose between purchasing food or feminine hygiene products while starving?
You are all invited to attend our Population Health Project poster presentation at the OHSU School of Nursing at 2355 SW US Veterans Hospital Road, Portland on August 20th from 1:00 - 3:00.
Figure 1. Frequency of service organizations in need of feminine hygiene products, broken down into the categories as organized by Street Roots. The graph shows that 100% of the youth services and meal-based organizations that were contacted, there is a strong need for FHP donations.
All data / statistics from:
- Das, P., Baker, K. K., Dutta, A., Swain, T., Sahoo, S., Das, B. S., Panda, B., Nayak, A., Bara, M., Bilung, B., Mishra, P.R., Panigrahi, P., Cairncross, S., & Torondel, B. (2015). Menstrual Hygiene Practices, WASH Access and the Risk of Urogenital Infection in Women from Odisha, India. PLoS ONE, 10(6), e0130777. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0130777
- Crichton, J., Okal, J., Kabiru, C. W., & Zulu, E. M. (2013). Emotional and psychosocial aspects of menstrual poverty in resource-poor settings: A qualitative study of the experiences of adolescent girls in an informal settlement in Nairobi. Health care for women international, 34(10), 891-916
- Ranjan, R., & Sharma, R. K. (2002). Gender differentials in the knowledge of RTI and STI in India: evidence from RCH-RHS II–Survey. Committee for International Cooperation in National Research in Demography, 1-25
- Winkler, I. T., & Roaf, V. (2014). Taking the Bloody Linen out of the Closet: Menstrual Hygiene as a Priority for Achieving Gender Equality. Cardozo JL & Gender, 21, 1.