How Free Sanitary Products In Schools Could Help Tackle Period Poverty

Today is international Menstrual Hygiene Day and still kids go to school without regular access to pads or tampons in Australia.

School Period Poverty

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Getting your period in your primary or high school years can be painful, stressful and scary. Yet only half of our states and territories help students by providing them free sanitary items.

Period poverty, or the inability to access period products due to “financial barriers, lack of resources, or discrimination” can become a serious barrier to education, Junkee reported in February.

The research on the impact of period poverty on school kids is non-existent in Australia. It’s believed 3.2 million Australians live below the poverty line, with more than half being women and girls.

The impacts can be crushing for kids who don’t have regular access to pads and tampons — missing school, reusing or substituting disposables, leaks, and disruption of day-to-day activities.

The national conversation was reignited in March when the NSW Department of Education announced they’d pilot free pads and tampons for public school students in Western Sydney and Dubbo over two terms — a trial that will wrap up before the June holidays.

Only three other states currently do the same. Victoria led the way in August last year, becoming the first state or territory to provide government school students with menstrual products. But like NSW, there’s a time cap on this offer until mid-2023.

South Australia followed suit in February, accommodating kids in Year 5 and above over three years. The NT has made menstrual hygiene products to nearly 9000 students since April. Tassy will introduce free sanitary items in government schools from term three, in two months time.

Last year, Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk promised 120 Queensland private and public schools the same offering as part of her re-election campaign. The opposition pointed out that this would only accommodate less than a tenth of schools in the state. Despite Palaszczuk returning for a third term, nothing has been said on the topic since.

The general narrative accepts that pads and tampons are no longer viewed as luxury items, a fact unanimously acknowledged when the ‘tampon tax’, or GST attached to hygiene products, was finally rescinded in 2018.

What some state governments have adopted so far is a great step forward, but has caveats in limited time runs, mixed availability between school types and age ranges, as well as using language that specifies ‘girls’ or ‘female bathrooms’ which isolates trans and gender-diverse students. And as far as WA and the ACT goes, it’s been radio silence policy-wise.

In the interim, charities and social enterprises are left filling the gaps, but their ability to successfully help kids and teens in need heavily rely on financial donations and collection drives to continue their work.

Australian organisation Share the Dignity has been installing vending machines in bathrooms with free packs of pads and tampons for the last three years in low socioeconomic schools.

Schools also cop the governmental flack. Sick bay nurses have been known to hand out emergency pads, and as Dr. Ruth Knight from the Queensland University of Technology told Junkee earlier this year, teachers also dig into their personal supply.

The Greens will reportedly demand the government commit $25 million annually on free period products for public school students nationwide, to coincide with international Menstrual Hygiene Day today.

“Parents don’t have to send their kids to class with a roll of toilet paper, so why should they have to also cover the costs of pads and tampons?” Queensland Greens Senator Larissa Waters said to the ABC.

How realistic this proposal is should be taken with a grain of salt given nothing of the sort was allocated in the 2021-22 federal budget.

Scotland recently became the first country in the world to make sanitary items free for everyone last November, while New Zealand made complimentary pads and tampons available for school kids nationwide in June 2020. So when will Australia follow suit?