MEXICO CITY – Every month, Susana Gonzalez must decide between eating or buying menstrual products. She lives on the streets and says having her period makes her survival more difficult.
“Living your menstruation on the street is very difficult,” Gonzalez, who for 24 years has been homeless in Mexico City, tells EFE.
Although she tries to save up some of the money she receives for cleaning in the Mexican capital subway, it is sometimes difficult for her and women in the same situation to get menstrual products to manage their period.
There is no government institution in Mexico that supplies destitute women with the products and a place to wash themselves, despite the fact that in Mexico City alone there are an estimated 6,000 homeless people, of which 12 percent are women, according to the latest figures provided by the capital city’s government.
The number may be increasing due to the coronavirus crisis, says El Caracol Association coordinator Alexia Moreno.
Gonzalez says that during her period, she goes to public bathrooms or sometimes collects enough money to rent a hotel room to take a bath.
In general, Moreno says, access to water is one of the biggest problems for people living on the streets, since they must go to a shelter, or take it from fountains or public spaces.
“(They have access) to food stalls with which they sometimes collaborate and they allow them to drink water and eat in public markets. Now with the issue of COVID-19 everything is closed,” she says.
Gonzalez says that although she tries to stay clean, stigma is one of the barriers that prevents her from having access to water, which is essential on the days that she has her period.
“People label you as filthy to begin with, but they don’t know that it’s not that we want to be filthy, but that sometimes there just isn’t a place where we can bathe,” she says.
She says that when she cannot access period products such as pads, she has resorted to scraps of cloth to avoid staining her clothes – something that makes her more vulnerable to infections.
Moreno says that pads are still considered luxury items “and then they are expensive and it is very difficult to manage a project that can allow these products to reach them.”
In Mexico, the average price of a pack of 10 pads is around 25 pesos ($1.10), which is not enough for a complete menstrual period of three to seven days, with between four and six pads used daily.
Gonzalez earns between 70 and 100 pesos ($3.10-$4.40) per day, sometimes a little more, which should be enough for her to eat, wash herself and buy her supplies, she says.
“Most of us work in the subway, but they don’t let us work anymore and the gang has to go around looking for bread and everything,” she says.
Menstruation is still a taboo for women on the streets, according to Moreno.
Gabriela Olvera Perez has lived on the streets since she was 14 years old. She has five children, two are girls, and although she says she tries to talk to them about periods, she admits that many times she does not know how to do it.
“I have already told them that they will reach a certain age when their menstruation is going to come, that they have to have a lot of hygiene, bathe every day,” she says.
That is why the El Caracol Association has created courses in which they explain to homeless women that this is a normal process, in addition to promoting initiatives for the government to make these types of resources available for free to the most vulnerable people.
Moreno highlights the importance of placing the issue on feminist agendas and then on public agendas to begin to make visible that these women need a differentiated accompaniment.
“It is evident that they do not enjoy the same rights and privileges as those of us who have a home, who have access to academic training and others,” she concludes.