Experiences and Perceptions of Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM) Among Homeless Women in Cape Town


  • Ayanda Mhlongo University of Cambridge




Menstrual Hygiene Management, Period Poverty, Homeless Women, Capability Theory, Cape Town


This study qualitatively explored the experiences and perceptions of period poverty among homeless women in Cape Town, South Africa, using the Capability Approach. The study was guided by a qualitative research design and non-probability sampling was used in recruiting participants. In-depth interviews were conducted with 16 homeless women who experienced period poverty. The individual interviews were done mainly in English and in IsiZulu and isiXhosa. The interviews lasted for a minimum of 45 minutes and were voice-recorded using a phone. A semi-structed interview schedule with 33 open-ended questions was used during the data collection process. The data analysis aspect of this study relied on the work of Creswell (2012) and Tesch (1990). The findings revealed that homeless women experience period poverty due to a lack of sanitary products and poor Menstrual Hygiene Management (MHM). Sen (1999) identified five ‘instrumental freedoms’ that, according to him, play a role in the general capability of a person to live more freely. Of the five instrumental freedoms, the third freedom,’ social opportunities,’ resonates deeply with this study. This freedom refers to facilities and arrangements available to uplift society. Examples of this would be access to quality education and healthcare. Homeless women lack access to quality healthcare and therefore experience obstacles to achieve effective MHM. The lack of sanitary products causes homeless women to resort to the unhygienic use of items such as rags, old socks, tissue paper, paper towels, torn pieces of clothing, or diapers, to satisfy their menstrual needs. Alternatively, they go about life without any menstrual protection and bleed through their undergarments and clothing. This results in them wearing blood-soaked items for days, or even weeks. Additionally, homeless women do not have access to safe water and sanitation facilities that are required to effectively manage their period. The paper serves as a means of highlighting how life, government policy, funding, etc. are still restricted to issues that relate to men. As a result, a multifaceted and holistic approach to addressing period poverty amongst homeless women is encouraged and provision should be made for the type of sanitary products and facilities that homeless women are most comfortable using.

Author Biography

Ayanda Mhlongo, University of Cambridge

Ayanda Mhlongo is a PhD Candidate at the University of Cambridge where she explores historical and intergenerational trauma in South Africa and centers the experiences of black female freedom fighters and their progeny. Her main research areas are Menstrual Hygiene Management, Gender Equality, Anti-racism, Historical and Intergenerational trauma.