Period poverty impacts women and people who menstruate all over the globe. It is referred to as the inability to afford basic female sanitary products.
Recently, there have been a few developments in eliminating period poverty in first-world countries, most notably Scotland.
Scotland was the first nation to provide free period pads and tampons in schools, colleges and in public areas. When the Bill that provided these products passed, the First Minister Nicola Sturgeon tweeted, “Proud to vote for this ground-breaking legislation, making Scotland the first country in the world to provide free period products for all who need them. An important policy for women and girls”.
For centuries, women were not given the opportunity to speak freely about menstruation, and even in today’s society, elements of shame still persist. Pads are advertised as ‘discreet’ which reinforces the subconscious shame women are forced to bear during their menstrual cycle.
A few weeks ago, New Zealand passed a law stating that complimentary period products would be made available at schools. They have allocated NZ$25m (€15m) over the next three years to promote period dignity.
The country’s Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern said: “Providing free period products at school is one way the Government can directly address poverty, help increase school attendance, and make a positive impact on children’s well-being,” reported Reuters.
Ireland may have its own period Bill on the horizon.
“I believe in period justice as I want everyone to be able to easily access period products and not have financial inequality hold them back,” Labour Party senator Rebecca Moynihan, who has been spearheading this Bill, told The City.
“We don’t expect people to carry around toilet paper or soap, so why are we expecting them to carry tampons and pads? We need to challenge the idea that these are non-essential items,” she continued.
The Senator also expressed the need for the State to collaborate with charities, so that those who experience homelessness and who are living in Direct Provision can also have access to period products.
If passed, Ireland’s Period Provision Bill would be similar to Scotland’s. The Government would make menstrual products accessible to all by supplying free tampons and pads to schools, colleges and public areas.
While period poverty has been discussed in the Dáil and the Seanad, the Period Products (Free Provision) Bill 2021 has been brought forward by Senator Rebecca Moynihan, Senator Ivana Bacik and other members of the Labour Party. It is currently on its Second Stage in the Seanad and has nine more stages to go before it can be passed.
At the moment, period pads and tampons are subjected to 0% tax. However, this law was made before the advancement in period technology – such as menstrual cups, period underwear and bikinis. This limits women and people who menstruate from being able to purchase these items as they are classified as ‘luxury’ goods – luxuries that many cannot afford.
Currently, there are three Dublin county councils that are running a pilot period scheme –they have been providing free sanitary products in local recreation centres.
In a Plan Ireland survey of over 1,000 girls and young women between the ages of 12 and 19, 50% admitted to struggling with the cost of period products and, because of that, were forced to use other materials.
The underlying problem is that menstruation is viewed as a woman’s issue and not a general issue. In this country, the majority of media coverage on this topic has been done by women. Periods will never be normalised until they are openly acknowledged by all genders.
“The women’s caucus held a photocall and press conference to promote the motion…not one male journalist saw fit to attend and not one television station, including the State broadcaster, saw fit to cover the matter,” said former Fine Gael TD Marcella Corcoran Kennedy in a Dáil Éireann debate regarding period poverty in Ireland.
“We certainly have an uphill battle ahead to have this important issue discussed more widely when those responsible for covering news stories do not consider this issue important enough to turn up,” she continued.
The eradication of period poverty relies on the eradication of poverty in general, as the latter cannot live without the former.
In terms of what we as the public can do to get the Bill passed, Senator Annie Hoey told The City to “get in contact with your local councillor, your local TD and Senator about it.”
She explained that the more we pressure those in charge to address important matters, the more likely things are to change.
Here is a link to an anonymous period survey – made by Senator Mary Seery-Kearney – to assist the government in collecting more data about the extent of period poverty in Ireland.