The homeless women’s monthly conundrum

Soraya Petersen and a friend at Tent City opposite Sea Point police station.

Homeless women say cleansing themselves during the monthly menstruation cycle is difficult because of the lack of ablution facilities.

Unemployment is another factor since many women cannot afford sanitary items or medication to aid with their menstruation.

Soraya Petersen, 63, who has been homeless for 34 years said alot of women are too proud to ask for help but were forced to.

Lajune Schutte, 47, who has lived on the streets for 13 years, said women needed access to a toilet, even if it was a portable toilet.

“Sometimes we use toilet paper because we don’t have money to buy the sanitary pads, and the toilet paper can cause infections because of the bleach and dye in it,” she said.

Lajune Schutte peeking out her tent.

Dr Zahid Badroodien, Mayoral committee member for community services and health, advises women to use existing public restrooms and said hygiene packets are distributed at the City’s Safe Spaces.

“All shelters have ablutions facilities. So too the City’s Safe Spaces. For persons living on the street and who decline assistance into shelter living, the City’s Recreation and Parks Department currently manages a total of 147 public ablution facilities across the Cape Town metro. This includes public toilets at bath houses, public transport interchanges, cemeteries, parks and along the coast,” said Dr Badroodien.

Audrey Brown has been homeless for nine years and is now living at a shelter thanks to the HOPE project, where she works as a street cleaner.

Ms Brown, 53, said she would ask the people cleaning the toilets in Sea Point if she could wash herself when she was menstruating.

“It wasn’t easy because sometimes they wouldn’t allow you, it was tough,” said Ms Brown.

“At the shelter it’s easier, I can wash, I don’t have to worry about where I can wash and they do provide soap and other stuff for us as cleanliness is important.”

Tasneem Hoosain-Fielies, a Soupertroopers fieldworker, believes the government can do more for homeless women.

“We make sure that they get their toiletries monthly, soap, shampoo, underarm, they have to collect it at our offices. Even though they are living on the streets they want to clean up, they want to be clean, but there is not a specific ablution facility for women on the street where they can feel safe, get cleaned up and get sanitary pads. There are condoms being distributed but not pads. We are in discussions with the local government to discuss a way forward,” said Ms Hoosain-Fielies.

Audrey Brown attending a Project HOPE meeting in Sea Point.