The public bathrooms at Penn Station in New York City are a dirty, depressing place. But now, there’s a bright spot: a poster that encourages women to donate menstrual products, like pads or tampon, to help the many homeless women who frequent the bathroom.
“Sometimes these homeless women… have to choose between a meal or products,” says Erin Da Eun Song, a graphic designer who created the posters under the moniker the Perigives project. Song first learned about the challenges that homeless women face when it comes to access to menstrual products during a conversation with a friend–and decided to do something about it.
In the United States, about 216,000 women are homeless, but homeless shelters aren’t required to give out menstrual products. These products are also more expensive than they should be thanks to what’s known as the tampon tax, which taxes menstrual products as if they weren’t a basic necessity. At shelters, they’re often one of the most-needed items, due to their expense; some homeless women end up using toilet paper to clean up menstrual blood. The lack of solutions to this problem reflects the dearth of design focused on solving problems that only impact women.
To make it easier for homeless women to get access to these products, Song teamed up with art director Yitong Shen and Huge art director Jae Who, to prototype ideas.
First, Song tried out a small donation box that could be left on the sink in a public bathroom, targeting women who might be carrying around a few extra pads. But the three of them quickly realized the paper box would get wet and wouldn’t feel sanitary. Attaching a poster to the wall that also had a pocket where women could leave products worked much better. The trio tried out their idea in the bathrooms of Penn Station, Union Square, Grand Central Station, and Port Authority bus station one day in December of 2018, guerrilla-style, leaving three or four pads in each one. They found that in just a few hours, some of those pads were gone, and women had also placed more pads in some of the donation posters’ pockets. Each pocket fits about 10 pads.
Now anyone can download the poster that they designed, make the pocket using some double-sided tape, and affix it to the wall of a bathroom where women might need access to pads. While Song doesn’t know how many people have downloaded posters, she’s seen a great response on social media, where people have tagged the team in Instagram stories and even raised money on Facebook to print the posters out.
It’s certainly not a perfect solution–Song says the poster, if it’s printed on 100-pound paper, might stay for up to a month before the paper and tape give out, and a more permanent solution might be better. But a more ideal material might be laminated or made from plastic so that the posters don’t need to be replaced once they’re deployed. Yet that would also make them less accessible for anyone to simply print them out.
Beyond improving the posters’ sturdiness, Who says that they’re working on translating the poster into different languages and making those available for download online. Eventually, the hope is to turn the initiative into a nonprofit. Other organizations address this issue by advocating for access to pads and tampons in homeless shelters or buy menstrual products in bulk to donate, but Perigives provides a solution where homeless women really need it.