Free tampon vending machines helping restore dignity to homeless women

Dealing with your monthly period when you have no money is just one of the harsh realities of life for homeless women.

But charity organisation Share the Dignity is hoping to help women who cannot afford sanitary products by installing vending machines in cities around Australia that dispense free tampons and pads to those in need.

Machines have recently been installed in Melbourne, Sydney, Brisbane, Adelaide and Darwin, and one will be installed in Perth in the coming weeks.

The vending machines contain sanitary packs that each include two pads and six tampons, and work on a timed system to prevent wastage. One pack is available from the machine every 10 minutes.

Andrea, 38, has been homeless for most of her adult life. For her, the news is more than welcome.

She said she feels stripped of her dignity on the streets.

"You feel down, you feel so lost … so sad," she said.

Andrea said the machine would help young girls in particular, who may not be educated about their bodies.

"Girls need that, especially young girls … Some young girls they don't really know, mothers and parents don't really tell them," she said.

Homeless women 'extremely resourceful'

Share the Dignity plans to install 50 vending machines around Australia by the end of the year including four in Perth, hoping to put an end to the undignified situations some women are forced to endure.

"They have to become extremely resourceful … using public bathrooms, they just use wadded up newspaper, or toilet paper, or socks," Share the Dignity founder Rochelle Courtenay said.

The vending machines will be installed in schools, homeless shelters, and even fast-food restaurants.

Ms Courtenay said more than 85,000 Australian women turned to homeless services in 2016, including girls in school and women fleeing from domestic violence.

"One of the first places that women run to is McDonalds, because it's clean, open late, has cheap food and a place for their kids to play," Ms Courtenay said.

The machines and packs are labelled with information that direct women to services they may need, including 1800Respect, a telephone counselling service.

Ms Courtenay said she just wanted to help give women basic necessities they would otherwise go without.

"We're never going to get people saying, 'oh my God that saved my life'," she said.

"We don't need that, we just need to know at least a little bit of dignity is restored by the fact that they can grab a period pack when they need it."