Period Poverty Exists In Australia Too
Period poverty has been in the news a lot recently.
That’s because Isobel Marshall was just named Young Australian of the Year and she works on tackling period poverty, and breaking down the stigma around menstruation.
What do we need to do to end period poverty in Australia, and what does it say that a 22 year old has been rightfully celebrated for offering support that really should be coming from policymakers?
What Exactly Is Period Poverty?
A simple way to think about period poverty is just not being able to access period products because of financial barriers, lack of resources or discrimination.
It’s something that impacts up to 500 million people around the world every month.
Its especially crippling when period poverty becomes a barrier to education.
Isobel Marshall’s work on period poverty has largely been overseas, but it’s a problem in Australian schools too.
One 2017 report found that young people in some remote First Nations communities are forced to miss school when they’re menstruating because they can’t afford sanitary products.
And also because from the moment we learn about periods in schools, they becomes a strange source of shame and something people feel awkward talking about, even with family or friends.
So much so that in one survey (undertaken in conjunction with Libra’s attitude-shifting #bloodnormal campaign), 67% of Aussie and Kiwi students said they‘d rather fail a subject than have their class know they’re on their period.
What Does Period Poverty Look Like In Australia?
Dr. Ruth Knight (Queensland University of Technology): “Period poverty is actually quite a complex issue and it has some really serious health and mental health kind of impacts on women who can’t afford or access period products.
It might be that they’re using unhygienic products to manage their period, or it might be that they’re choosing to stay at home because they’re embarrassed, or they don’t have the products that enable them to go out and live their normal life.”
Dr. Ruth Knight told me that some Australian students even use socks or rolled up toilet paper if they’re menstruating at school, and others only have access to actual products because they’re given them from a teacher’s personal supply.
What Are Our Policymakers Doing To End Period Poverty?
Over the last few years there have been positive changes in some of the policies that impact period poverty around the world.
In January 2019 after an 18-year campaign, the tampon tax in Australia was finally removed to recognise the important fact that sanitary products are essential (not luxury) items. And last November, Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products completely free.
Victoria and Queensland have both promised to introduce free tampons and pads at schools, which is really great. And a non-profit called Share the Dignity are working on installing free vending machines for sanitary products in our schools.
Policymakers Could Be Doing A Lot More In This Space
Advocates want to see a complete re-think of menstrual education in schools, to remove stigma and encourage help-seeking. They also want to see a better standard of infrastructure, including more privacy solutions so that everyone has access to a safe and clean space to dispose of their used products.
The quality of sanitary products themselves, as well as their environmental impact, are other factors that really need to be addressed in conversations moving forward.
RK: “Providing pads and tampons is not the only way [people] can manage their periods. We need to look at the eco / environmental products, because we know pads and tampons add a lot to landfill. Sometimes the cheaper quality products aren’t always the best for your health and we really need to make sure we are not just giving people the cheapest – we need to look at what is the most sustainable solution.”
Australia still can’t say that everyone who needs sanitary products has access to them.
Period poverty exists here, in a country with decades of economic stability and a strong public health system.
Hopefully sooner rather than later our policies will change, so that we don’t have to rely on social enterprises and Young Australians of the Year to be providing support and resources that should be coming from government.