Women and children represent the fastest-growing groups of people experiencing homelessness in South Africa today.
About 80% of homeless families are led by young, single mothers without any financial or emotional support. Domestic violence is the largest contributing factor to the growing population of women who experience homelessness.
Many women who land up on the streets due to domestic violence end up being forced to trade themselves for a safe place to sleep and end up living, yet again, with abusive and possessive men.
These women often become strong and resilient, and although they get physically abused by their partners, they usually manage to get the psychological upper-hand in these relationships by making the men become extremely dependent on them.
Other options available to women who land up living on the streets follow the same psychological pattern.
Women are often sexually assaulted in showers, public restrooms, in shelters and in holding cells while experiencing homelessness, so they often turn to prostitution to ensure they are able to obtain something in return for the abuse which is virtually inevitable when they live on the streets.
A woman living on the streets, someone who ends up living this kind of hard life, lacks the sort of healthcare that is often taken for granted by those who have never experienced homelessness.
They lack basic preventative care, such as contraception, prenatal care, mammograms and other routine tests.
They lack basic access to menstrual products, which are limited, and menstrual cycles become a monthly challenge to survive for women living on the streets.
And then there is menopause. Historically, a large number of women in shelters are confronting mental health challenges and most suffer from severe depression.
Although the number of women over 40 has always been relatively low among those experiencing homelessness, the fact that our current system of accommodating the homeless keeps people imprisoned in homelessness for lengthy periods means the number of those now over 40 and still experiencing homelessness has grown exponentially.
This has brought with it its own set of challenges, and one of the most significant is menopause. Women who are experiencing homelessness have virtually no access to assistance with menopause.
Hormone replacement therapy, menopause clinics or basic help with menopause are virtually impossible to come by. There is also no traditional GP assistance and, as such, women living on the streets are not in the least prepared for the onset of menopause.
They often wonder what is happening to them with the symptoms of perimenopause, menopause or post-menopause.
They have no real access to mental health support and also no access to vitamins, health items and essential items that could potentially ease the symptoms of menopause.
It’s as if the shelters, social workers, the general public and the authorities have all completely disregarded the possibility of women in homelessness experiencing menopause.
Can you even begin to imagine what it must be like to be sleeping rough on the streets, living in a shelter while sharing a dormitory with 20 to 40 other women, and having to deal with menopause?
This is but one of the reasons why it is so important that people become informed on homelessness and why community intervention is so significant in dealing with homelessness.
We must find new ways to increase community involvement and support for those experiencing homelessness.
There should be greater community awareness regarding the growing risks of homelessness and measures to prevent it.
Most women on the streets have been deprived of love and care for an extended period. They have lost their physical and emotional homes, and a smile, word of encouragement, monetary help, providing daily bathroom supplies or food can go a long way in empowering women to unshackle the vicious cycle of homelessness.
I want to try to initiate a service whereby menopause among homeless women can be addressed.
If there are any service providers, brands and volunteers that would like to help to try and address this issue, please do not hesitate to contact me.
This column is dedicated to my friend Rianna and so many like her, who through lack of understanding and support when menopause came knocking, decided to opt out of life.
* Carlos Mesquita.
** The views expressed here are not necessarily those of Independent Media.