Are we finally getting somewhere tackling period poverty in Ireland? 7 months ago

Are we finally getting somewhere tackling period poverty in Ireland?

her health

"The stigma that surrounds menstruation is something that impacts girls and women from Tipperary to Timbuktu."

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Earlier this year, Labour senator Rebecca Moynihan introduced a Bill to make period products free in Ireland. The Period Products (Free Provisions) Bill would make pads and tampons freely available in schools, education centres, and other public buildings, and came just a few months after Scotland introduced similar legislation - the first time a country had ever done so.

Before that came the launch of the Period Poverty in Ireland report, an examination into the prevalence and social impact of period poverty across the country.

The report found that the annual costs of period products per woman are estimated at €96.72, not including pain relief which brings the estimate to a minimum of €121 per year.

It also included a list of key recommendations the government has said it is committed to introducing, including more surveys about the impact of period poverty, engaging with the country's most vulnerable groups including the homeless and those living with addiction, and continued negotiations with the EU on the reduction of VAT on products like menstrual cups.

Both this report and the new Bill came during a mere few weeks of one another and were met with egregious and widespread responses, mostly from women who were sick of paying for period products in public spaces when other essentials like toilet paper are free.

And although recommendations such as these have come and gone before (ex-Minister for Health Simon Harris promised free contraception would be introduced for all women back in 2018), it does seem as if Ireland is finally getting somewhere when it comes to tackling period poverty.

Plan International CEO Paul O’Brien tells Her that the group, who have campaign for period poverty reforms in Ireland and elsewhere for years, are looking forward to seeing real and concrete action tackle the country's issue.

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"With the current tabled Bills, we now have an opportunity to enact a bold, progressive piece of legislation that will represent a real step towards gender equality in Ireland," he says. "Any law introduced must be comprehensive enough in scope to ensure access to a choice of period products for those who need them across all public settings.

"I am confident that all involved in enacting legislation to end period poverty in Ireland recognise the importance of ensuring the final legislation will be comprehensive enough to effectively end period poverty in Ireland."

Scottish MP Monica Lennon at a period products rally

While period poverty may on the surface seem like an issue restricted only to women and girls in developing countries, a lack of access to products, and gaps in education, remain ever present closer to home.

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According to a 2018 study, half of girls aged between 12 and 19 admitted to struggling to pay for period products in the past, with the worst affected being those in low income families, direct provision centres, women's refuges and homeless women.

As well as this, more recent research by Plan showed that half of girls didn't find school to be of help when it came to education about their periods. In fact, over 40% of girls reported not knowing what to do when their period started.

"There is a clear need for comprehensive education on periods in school," says Paul. "Young people need to have classes in school, for example, that not only talk about the biological aspects of periods but also about the social, psychological and emotional aspects. There is so much to unpack and speak about, and boys and men must be part of the conversation too.

"Ultimately, the lack of access to period products and the stigma that surrounds menstruation is something that impacts girls and women from Tipperary to Timbuktu – it’s an issue that consistently features in our programme work in development and emergency contexts overseas and in our work with youth in Ireland."

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Although sex education in some Irish schools has become more comprehensive and inclusive in recent years, many students are still faced with the prospect of sex ed under a religious ethos - one that can ignore same-sex relationships, withhold information about contraception, and refuse to acknowledge that most young people have sex for pleasure.

Menstrual education is also unfortunately hindered by this lack of consistency. Periods are oftentimes seen as a "woman's issue," one that men don't need to be concerned with and boys don't need to learn about.

But if the Bill and the report are anything to go by, it looks like times might just be changing. As long as action is taken, words don't become futile, and education is afforded the attention it deserves.

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"Comprehensive relationships and sexuality education is key in empowering people to learn about their bodies and supports youth, especially girls and young women, to achieve bodily autonomy," says Paul.

"Any legislation that is enacted in Ireland to tackle period poverty should be accompanied by awareness-raising and education initiatives if it is to be truly successful.

"Parents and family members can also speak to their children about periods. Ultimately, the more conversations we have, the better."