How a Montreal illustrator is using art to buy much-needed menstrual products for homeless women

Tricia Robinson purchases pads, tampons and menstrual cups for Montreal's homeless women with the proceeds from a $14 print she sells online called Periods: They Exist.

Tricia Robinson purchases pads, tampons, menstrual cups with proceeds from her sales

Tricia Robinson says that homeless women face hurdles when it comes to accessing menstrual products. (Sara King-Abadi/CBC)

A local illustrator is tackling the issue of menstruation for homeless women one print at a time.

Tricia Robinson purchases pads, tampons and menstrual cups with the proceeds from a $14 print she sells online called Periods: They Exist. Robinson then drops the products off at shelters in Montreal.

Having limited or no access to menstrual products raises a host of different issues, from health complications to run-ins with the law, Robinson told CBC Montreal's Daybreak.

"There are women who will use toilet paper or napkins and fashion tampons out of them or they'll reuse products...and that creates an issue of bacteria and infection," she said.

Some women living on the streets and who struggle to buy hygiene products will also run the risk of getting arrested by stealing tampons and menstrual pads from stores, said Robinson.

"That creates a dangerous situation for them as well in terms of obtaining criminal records," she said.

She has also heard of people trading their food stamps in exchange for menstrual products.

"Just having to choose between one or the other — I think there's a problem with that."

A boom in donations

While Robinson started the initiative about a year ago, the project is now picking up steam through social media and has prompted a slew of donations.

Strangers have started reaching out to simply donate money to the cause or give her products they no longer need, even if they don't buy a print.

"I'm shocked," said Robinson about the outreach. "It's inspiring and makes me want to push further."

Tricia Robinson has been receiving donations of hygiene products and money for homeless women from complete strangers. (Courtesy of Tricia Robinson)

Over the last year, she has donated about 50 boxes of pads, tampons and menstrual cups to different shelters in Montreal using the funds that she's raised through the print sales. 

That amount, according to Robinson, is how much one shelter requires in monthly donations.

While Robinson's project has garnered more support, there is still a growing demand for donations of feminine hygiene products for Montreal's homeless women.

Fighting the stigma

Robinson believes that part of why there are not enough donations of menstrual products is because people are still reticent to talk about periods.

That stigma is another issue Robinson wants to help fight by encouraging a more open and inclusive conversation about menstruation.

"When women don't talk about it they might not know when something's wrong," she said. "There are diseases that are around your menstrual cycle...if you don't talk about it, you might think it's normal."

Not realizing something is wrong — or even general discomfort when talking about menstruation — could prevent women from seeing a doctor, she warns.

"When people become more comfortable talking about periods and it's less stigmatised that's going to create a better solution for everyone."

With files from CBC Montreal's Daybreak