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Opinion: Let's eradicate period poverty by providing free sanitary products across the country

Some women simply don’t have enough money to buy sanitary products so councils are piloting a scheme to distribute them in public buildings, writes Rebecca Moynihan.

Image: Shutterstock/VonaUA

IT’S A SAD state of affairs that in 2019, we are hearing more and more about the rise of period poverty in Ireland.

We know that period poverty is a very real issue in Ireland, particularly for young women.

A survey by PLAN International which was carried out last year showed that more than half of young girls, aged 12-19, struggle to afford sanitary products.

And the issue is not confined to secondary school students. Homeless women, women living in direct provision and other women on low incomes struggle too.

Just because you find yourself on the streets doesn’t mean that your period is something that goes away because it is an inconvenient time in your life.

For many women getting their period can be a troubling time but imagine being a woman who suffers from debilitating symptoms every month and having to deal with the stress of being homeless as well.

Because of this, last September my councillor colleagues on Dublin City Council supported my motion to provide free sanitary products in Dublin City Council owned-buildings.

This means that free sanitary products will be available in Dublin City libraries, sports centres, council offices and community centres. This is a really progressive step forward and my Labour colleagues in Dún Laoghaire and Wexford have ensured similar motions are passed.

If our council pilot projects of providing free sanitary products are proven to be successful, then there is no reason why the government couldn’t extend the initiative to other state-owned buildings such as museums, departmental offices and Intreo centres, would supply free sanitary products.

Cheap

We only need to look at our neighbours across the water in Scotland to see a scheme that we could easily replicate here in Ireland.

Last September, the Scottish Government started a scheme that provides free sanitary products in their schools and colleges. The Scottish scheme is relatively cheap, costing just under €5 million a year.

We know that teachers in some Irish schools keep sanitary products to give to their students but this is not the case in every school and depends on the goodwill of teachers. It is high time we standardise this initiative. 

Also in Scotland, a group of young women have been campaigning for Scottish football clubs to provide free sanitary products and Celtic FC have taken the lead and are providing the products at Celtic Park.

At a time when we are crying out for young girls and women to continue playing sports into their teens and beyond, Irish sports clubs adopting a similar model would send the right message to women.

All around the world young women are leading the way in ensuring there is a change of mindset in the provision of free sanitary products.

Having to go through a period every month can cost a woman over €20,000 in their lifetime and some women simply don’t have the money. But surely as a society, we can save them the humiliation of not having access to sanitary products.

It would be remiss to write about period poverty in Ireland and not mention the stellar work of the Homeless Period Ireland group.

Thanks to Claire Hunt from Homeless Period Ireland, there are now more than 30 ‘drop off’ points across Ireland where women can drop tampons, pads and other sanitary products off for distribution to homeless women. The generosity of Irish women when it comes to this initiative never fails to inspire me.

Now it is time for the local and national government to come together and build on that initiative. By providing free sanitary products in public buildings we can help to provide all women with these essential products no matter what their economic circumstances. 

Rebecca Moynihan is a Labour Dublin City Councillor and spokesperson on Community Arts. 

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