Having periods is a pain - literally, emotionally and financially.
Beyond the discomfort and general stigma surrounding this perfectly natural bodily function, there is also the issue of expense.
Sanitary products are not cheap, with research indicating that women can spend an average of £18,000 on having periods over their lifetime.
Frankly appalling VAT charges on tampons are subject to on-going debate, despite the success of the Tampon Tax petition which persuaded the UK Government to agree to end the sexist 5% 'luxury' tax placed on period products.
The cost of having a period doesn't simply depend on sanitary products such as tampons, cups and pads, there is also the additional cost of painkillers, keeping clean, new underwear after accidents and multiple hot water bottles.
I recognise that I am in an extremely privileged position, as my income allows a decent margin for these expenses. As someone who also suffers from endometriosis, I often have to use twice as many hygiene products compared with with women, which of course means that my periods are often twice as expensive. (The severity of endometriosis flare ups can fluctuate depending on the treatment given).
As household budgets are squeezed due to rising inflation, decreasing benefits and unstable living conditions, increasing numbers of women are finding that the cost of having a period is simply untenable.
Women who are experiencing homelessness and poverty are regularly forced to choose between purchasing food and essential sanitary items, a decision that nobody should ever have to make and one that makes me feel deeply ashamed of my society.
I will not delve too deeply into politics here, but despite the ambivalence of our current Government there are people taking action in their communities by bringing sanitary provisions right to those in need.
Here in my home city of York The Lunar Project supply essential items for immediate needs including pads, tampons, socks, sleeping bags etc. to men and women experiencing homelessness in York.
Founded by three friends, Claire Lewis, Stephanie McCusker and Sarah Myler, the project has gone from a self funded activity to becoming a registered charity. It now runs twice weekly Moonwalks throughout the city where founders and volunteers distribute vital supplies to those experiencing homelessness.
(I feel it is very important to use this terminology - it places an important emphasis on a person's experience, rather than a simple denotation of socio-economic status.)
At the end of last year, I was honoured to receive an email from the project inviting me to see their work for myself through taking part in a Moonwalk.
This is how I found myself standing in a carpark on a cold January evening, waiting to meet with the project's founders and other volunteers.
Laden with supplies of soup, sweets, socks, sanitary items and several sleeping bags, we made our way to the heart of the city and the streets/doorways often used as temporary shelter.
Speaking to founder Stephanie, it became clear that the project has built up a strong sense of trust with many of those who are forced to sleep on the city streets. During our walk we spoke with a number of people, even if only to say hello and ask whether they were OK.
Whilst observing discussions with a number of individuals, it became clear that the project takes a non-judgemental and compassionate approach. Stephanie explained that there are multiple reasons why any given person might be experiencing homelessness, many of which are complex and intertwined with other experiences, such as poor mental health.
It also became immediately clear that whilst the project does focus on a sex-specific issue, in reality it provides vital supplies to those of any gender. One of the most popular items we handed out were socks, something which had become acutely needed after days of wet and cold weather. The small packs of sweets put together by a volunteer also proved to be in-demand along with self-heating hand and foot warmers.
Alongside the work of giving supplies, I also observed the effect the project had on passers bay.
I'm sure most of us mentally acknowledge people sitting in doorways or on busy pavements, however we (including myself) are guilty of ignoring them, never making eye contact and hurrying on by. I strongly believe that there is a value in the general public seeing others treating those experiencing homelessness as human beings, even if this makes only the tiniest crack in commonly held assumptions. As I watched I saw multiple passers by look at us inquisitively, presumably noting our interaction.
The walk ended after a cold couple of hours, with many supplies given and conversations had. I came away from my evening feeling both proud of the work the ladies are doing with The Lunar Project and also ashamed.
Ashamed that I had never really taken any time to think about what the daily physical and emotional experience must be like for someone experiencing homelessness. Coming through my own front door to the warmth and security of my own house made this all the more acute. Most of us would not "choose" to be living outside of permanent accommodation. Just like one would not "choose" to have a substance abuse problem or the experience of domestic violence.
Alongside Moonwalks, the Lunar Project also runs a “pink box” scheme, which provides boxes containing a supply of pads and tampons in schools and community service centres.
This struck a chord with me, as I acutely remember the acute feeling of shame one day when I started my period at school at an age where I did not have the financial ability or independence to buy things for myself. I was also too embarrassed to ask my teacher for help and simply spent the rest of the day jumping in an out of the toilets, stuffing my underwear with tissues, terrified I would leak.
Nobody should feel scared or ashamed because of their bodily needs.
I feel I have made many conclusions in the paragraphs above - that period poverty is a serious issue for a growing number of women, that those experiencing homelessness are particularly vulnerable to it, and that the needs of those experiencing homelessness extend beyond sanitary ones.
I hope I have also recounted a tale of how action can be and is being taken, led by local people in their communities.
In York we are lucky to have The Lunar Project and I urge you to seriously consider donating your time and money to this cause. I certainly plan on attending Moonwalks in the future whenever I am able to.