Have you ever heard about the term ‘period poverty’? If the answer is no – don’t worry. We hadn’t heard about it before we learnt about Social Period either. Social Period e.V. is a German organization helping homeless women in Berlin by facilitating easier access to menstrual products. We often don’t think about the fact that access to basic hygiene also includes access to menstrual products – and we all know how expensive they can be.
We sat down with Tatjana Kunz, the menstruation-cup-coordinator and charming interview coordinator, to talk about the issue of the so-called period poverty and Social Period’s mission to help homeless women and men*.
ASHIFT: When have you founded Social Period and what made you decide to found an organization that helps easing the access to menstrual products for people in need?
Tatjana: The first idea for Social Period came to Katja in 2019 after she had attended a seminar focussing on period poverty at her university. She was confronted with the issue for the first time and it left her thinking. Days after the seminar she still didn’t get the topic out of her head and she started discussing with her friend Undine about the issue of period poverty and of course, about what could be done about it. After many discussions with various organizations like the “Straßenfeger” the two decided to set up donation boxes for hygiene products in Berlin. The aim was to make the boxes available in public spaces, in organizations as well as different supermarkets and drugstores to ensure donating would be as easy as possible for people. The Social Period association was founded in January 2020 and the first three boxes have been set up in three Edeka branches in Berlin in July. So it took about one year from the first idea to our first set of boxes. That might seem like a long time but if you consider we had to start from scratch producing the boxes and the fact that we are all full-time employed next to working on Social Period it makes sense that it took us a tiny bit longer.
ASHIFT: What exactly is period poverty?
Tatjana: Period poverty is essentially the issue of people not having access to basic hygiene products for their menstruation. This can have various reasons like not being informed and simply not knowing what products can be used for their menstruation to not having access to hygiene products for homeless people due to not having the financial possibilities. On top of that people in need of hygiene products for their menstruation are often ashamed to ask for help as the topic of menstruation is still largely stigmatized in Germany. In fact, homeless people face double stigmatization as a lot of people forget that homeless people also menstruate just like they forget that homelessness exists. However, what most people don’t know is that period poverty also affects people living in poverty for example after having to flee from their country. This is especially apparent in schools where young girls regularly ask for hygiene products as their family can’t afford to buy them. It’s important to understand that the issue of period poverty is not only faced by homeless people.
ASHIFT: I want to donate hygiene products – what products are helpful and where can I find your boxes?
Tatjana: What we have learnt from our work so far is that the best products to donate are sanitary pads because they are easiest for homeless people to use in a hygienic way. Tampons are also good but not optimal as they require access to handwashing facilities. However, some women prefer tampons over pads, so we should not generalise. Unfortunately, cups – which are definitely the most sustainable way – are not very practical if you are homeless. Being able to sterilize the cup can often be difficult for someone that doesn’t have access to electricity or hot water regularly. Regarding the locations of our donation boxes; currently we have them at three different EDEKA branches in Berlin. One in Hohenschönhausen, one in Neukölln and one in Charlottenburg. We also have a drop-off location in Prenzlauer Berg at Kora Mikino’s FLOWROOM. You can also find the flowroom on Instagram. Currently, we are also coordinating with a big chain so that we can add multiple new locations all over Berlin in December. Hopefully, we can share the news soon!
ASHIFT: In your opinion why do people never really discuss the issue of ‘period poverty’?
Tatjana: On the one hand, especially in large capital’s like Berlin, homeless people are often romanticized as part of the city. There are also a lot of stigmas surrounding homelessness for example that people choose to be homeless. On the other hand, people that menstruate will agree that menstruation is still somewhat a shameful topic. The female cycle is often perceived with shame, aversion and differentness by people even though we all know it’s a natural process. We do believe that a lot of work has been done in Germany in recent years to lift that stigmatization of the female menstruation through the media and of course, social media. In general, we believe talking more about the issue of period poverty and making other people aware of it is already a big step. We need to normalize the issue in order to change it.
ASHIFT: Generally speaking, what issues do you see in society when it comes to menstruation and what can we do to change that?
Tatjana: In my opinion the society wide acceptance of the period as something natural is the biggest issue. It’s already much more normal to talk to your friends about your period today than it was 10 years ago. Nevertheless, a lot of women still don’t feel comfortable talking about their menstruation with their partners or people close to them. Women and men should take each experience seriously and listen to the person experiencing it – some women love their periods, some have extremely painful experiences and for others it’s not a big deal at all. I also think if a woman doesn’t want to talk about her experiences with their period that should be as accepted as wanting to talk about it. A lot of men that don’t menstruate still think they probably shouldn’t get involved in their partners menstruation as they don’t share the experience and don’t want to say or do anything wrong. But this shouldn’t be an excuse to not get involved at all. You will probably say something wrong now and then but showing the other person you are there for them and you are listening is extremely important in order to normalize the conversation about menstruation. I hope in the future men will start becoming bigger players in making menstruation seen as a society wide topic and not just a “female issue”. We are one society and should all work on resolving issues and stigmatization around menstruation together.
ASHIFT: What is your goal for Social Period?
Tatjana: Our first goal will always be making period products available for those people that need them. We want to ensure that nobody has to suffer from physical and/or mental problems because of a lack of accessibility to period products. Many people are not aware that it can have severe consequences on the individual’s health. For example, homeless people that don’t have period products sometimes use old socks or clothing – often already dirty – which can cause infections. In the worst – rare – case using a tampon for too long can cause a toxic shock syndrome which results in severe circulatory and organ failure. This is especially dangerous for homeless people as the access to health care is limited, too. On the mental side of problems – imagine you have the classic period accident and you have blood on your pants from your menstruation. It’s embarrassing right? It can make you feel horrible. But usually you can fix the problem relatively easily. Now imagine you are homeless and already in a situation of constant judgement by the people around you. We want to make sure people don’t have to suffer additional social exclusion and stress due to their menstruation.
ASHIFT: What would be your hope for Social Period in the future?
Tatjana: Our short term goal is simply to increase our distribution of donation boxes in Berlin in order to raise more and more donations for people in need. What we have already started, but the COVID-19 situation put a hold onto, is our educational work with schools and organizations to increase the access to information about menstruation but also period poverty. So hopefully we can continue – or even better – increase our efforts in 2021. We also hope to grow Social Period as an association. More volunteers also mean we will have to learn to coordinate our growing team in the best possible way. But we are hopeful. We receive so much positive feedback from our followers everyday. People around the world have asked us for ways to collaborate and possibilities to bring Social Period to their country. This is the best confirmation for our work and maybe – who knows – one day Social Period will be a global association that fights period poverty.
ASHIFT: Last but definitely not least, how can readers get involved with Social Period?
Tatjana: We were really excited that a lot of people asked to get involved after reading about Social Period in the press. As I mentioned previously, we are all working full-time while trying to put as much time into our association as possible. We always aim to use the strength of each person involved, so for example someone that has a PR background will likely be working with our PR coordinator. Or someone that is passionate about social media will be on the social media team and so on. It is super easy to get involved with us as we are always looking for people to help us. Even if you just pick up one of the boxes ones a month that would already be a major help to us. Besides getting actively involved, we are always happy about donations, which can also be sent directly to us. We have also created an Amazon wishlist for anyone that wants to donate products and save additional postage. Last but not least, there is another donation campaign running right now to help us fund the production of new donation boxes – you can find the campaign here. If you have any questions or ideas you can always reach out to us on Instagram or via Email and we will be in touch.
A big thank you to Tatjana and the rest of the team at Social Period for taking the time to talk with us. All photos were kindly provided by Social Period. If you are interested in becoming active with them you can find all important information on their website or instagram. Or shot them an email at email@example.com
*We as a society tend to forget this, but transgender men menstruate, too. So this is our kind reminder.