CK*, from Soweto, South Africa, is a 39-year-old asylum-seeking woman who has always suffered from heavy, painful periods. When she became destitute on the streets of London last year, having to deal with heavy bleeding every month just added to the nightmare. “I had to go to McDonald’s and use toilet roll to stop me from dirtying myself,” she says.
“It was very hard. I used to work for many years before all of these challenges, but as an asylum seeker I was told I didn’t qualify for any recourse to public funds, and that was very difficult.”
With no right to work, or access to benefits, she was vulnerable. The ex-partner she had been living with took advantage, abusing her sexually, physically and emotionally. CK was treated in hospital after a particularly bad attack, but there was nowhere safe for her to be discharged to, and she ultimately found herself on the streets, sleeping on night buses.
It made me feel humiliated
“When I was bleeding heavily, I sometimes had to keep the same toilet roll in my underwear for quite a long time, because I couldn’t change it very often, and this gave me thrush,” she says. “I already had an infection from being sexually abused, so not having proper sanitary products made this worse. It really made me feel so humiliated and dehumanised, and it’s had a terrible effect on my physical and mental health.”
CK is just one of the women supported by the charity Women for Refugee Women (WRW), who this week published a report in collaboration with Bloody Good Period, exploring the effects of period poverty among refugee and asylum-seeking women.
The report surveyed 78 asylum-seeking women, and found 75 per cent struggled to obtain menstrual products, often for extended periods of time – which impacted negatively on both their physical and mental health. Those who didn’t struggle had either finished their periods, or consistently relied on charities for period products.