We Need To Talk About Period Poverty

"People still don't feel its essential to educate people about regular bodily function.”

When we’re in school we receive sex education classes, albeit very limited. But as far as information on periods, we just learn that we bleed once a month, not much more. Menstruation is often shrouded in secrecy. When the time comes by then (or perhaps it has already), we’re told that pads or tampons can be used to absorb the blood but the cost isn’t talked about.

The notion of period poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand washing facilities, and, or, waste management. There are plenty of trying times in our lives when money is low or we’re far from a shop to buy pads or tampons, with this problem only worsened tenfold for trans people, the homeless and those in direct provision. 

Countries such as Scotland and New Zealand have already legislated that period products be placed freely in public spaces and private buildings, with Scotland’s The Sanitary Products (Free Provision) Bill estimating to cost €10.7 million a year. This Scottish law was something Irish senator Rebecca Moynihan worked from, introducing The Period Products (Free Provisions) Bill to the Seanad earlier this year. Having already provided free period products in Dublin city council buildings, the Labour senator is confident we can kick period poverty.

“What our legislation does is, it puts an obligation on the minister to make products available to schools, educational facilities and public service bodies. It’s calling for a dignity perspective, because it requires that they consult users about what they want and where they want period products. And it says that the products should be easily accessible and respect the dignity of those who use them. That means things like no access barriers, I’ll give an example of why that’s important. In direct provision centres, they’re providing period products but the ones they provide aren’t necessarily the products people want to use. But also they have a points system for products. So you get like, 10 points and you have to get your period products out of that points system. That doesn’t really respect the dignity of those who use them.”

Period dignity is something that Senator Moynihan feels strongly about. “Period dignity comes into it, where if you get stuck out and about, you know, you don’t have access to change, or you don’t have access to get to a chemist or whatever, you’re still able to avail of them. So that’s period dignity, you’re not stuck somewhere where you’re going to bleed through your clothes. 

 

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Spreading information about free period products and environmentally sustainability were also elements core to her bill. “It puts an obligation on the minister to engage in information campaigns, so they know that the products are available for free. So a lot of people mightn’t know that period products should be free in direct provision centres. And people in direct provision don’t necessarily know either. It lets people know that they’re free and available and this is something that you’re entitled to.These underlying principles are there to make sure that we’re not only promoting them, you’re actually providing them properly and easily accessible. And it ensures that people have the choice of products. There’s another section that says it promotes environmentally sustainable products. So those two things combined allow people to have options to non plastic products.”

In the past, many of my friends have organised drops of period products for direct provision centres through Homeless Period Ireland drop-off points, and HPI have now partnered with Lidl to offer free period products. Claire Hunt of Homeless Period Ireland said the retailer were very open in installing their new initiative, where customers can claim a dedicated coupon for a free box of sanitary pads or tampons each month through the Lidl Plus app. “Lidl approached me, they were amazing to work with and really understanding. They’ve been following the work I’ve been doing and that’s what started it all.”

Lidl have committed to quarterly donations of period products to The Simon Communities to ensure people experiencing homelessness – who may not have access to a smartphone – can also access these essential products.

Claire has been working by herself for five years to stop period poverty and her sole wish is to not have it exist anymore. She hopes now is the time to eradicate period poverty. “This issue needs less talk, more action. It goes off the radar but it seems to be back on the radar now, especially with the pandemic this has impacted more and more people than it has done in years. People forget, they talk about period poverty and periods and think it’s a cool issue to bandwagon but it’s a poverty issue.”

If you’re feeling passionate about fighting period poverty and can’t wait to get involved, student led enterprise Any Time Of The Month (@anytimeofthemonth) sell badges and stickers which is based on a friendly stranger network. Started in the University of Limerick in 2019, ATOTM have been working to ease the stigma around period poverty for college and secondary school students. 

“The student union in UL was our first partner but when we first started we didn’t realise how big of an issue it is,” says Catriona from ATOTM. “The way it works is people can purchase our badge or sticker and when you display it, someone can approach you for a period product. If you don’t have a product on you, there are student unions and some company partners that you can direct someone towards, places that have agreed to have them. All the profits from that are used to provide period products to the homeless and those in direct provision.”

The discreet pink and green badge means anyone can wear it, and from a 2020 survey of 256 students ATOTM conducted, it shows how badly period poverty in third level is underestimated. The findings reported 1 in 3 college students said they were in period poverty and 75% of respondents said they’d worn a period product for longer than the recommended hours due to financial reasons.

Bit by bit, the stigma around periods is decreasing. But there’s still a long way to go, says Katie from ATOTM. “We’ve 11 Student Unions who took our workshop which goes through what period poverty is and taboos and comfortability with the issue but periods are still stopping girls from attending work and education.”

ATOTM are working on an education program about periods, which is badly needed going from their social media interactions, notes Catriona and Katie. “We’ve identified a huge gap in period education and that’s what kickstarted our education program. On Instagram we had a question box one day asking followers for their funny period stories and some wrote in saying they thought they were dying, they didn’t know what a period was and we were taken aback that there was such a lack of awareness of something that is inevitable to happen to nearly every woman. People still don’t feel its essential to educate people about regular bodily function.”

By Rebecca Keane 

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