Irish Times view on period poverty

It shouldn’t have been left to a German discount supermarket to provide a vital public health resource through a loyalty app

 

A box of branded tampons costs about €4, more than a bag of oranges, a bottle of shampoo or the cheapest whole chicken. Those are the kind of calculations some people have to make every month.

The news that Lidl Ireland, in conjunction with Homeless Period Ireland and the Simon Communities, is to offer a monthly coupon for a free box of tampons or pads to eligible customers is welcome. But it shouldn’t have been left to a German discount supermarket to provide a vital public health resource through a loyalty app.

Period poverty – defined as difficulty accessing sanitary products, menstrual education or hygiene facilities – is a distressing fact of life for those on low incomes, experiencing homelessness, in refuges and for many schoolchildren. A study by Plan International in 2018 found that half of Irish teenage girls struggled to pay for period products which, together with pain relief, cost upwards of €200 a year. But this is not just an economic issue; it is about dignity, equality, public health and education.

A recent symposium at Columbia Law School in the US, riffing on the Judy Blume novel that did so much to normalise periods 50 years ago, posed the question: “Are you there, law? It’s me, menstruation”. The answer, for many countries, is no. Scotland is a notable exception, becoming the first to offer free access to period products in 2020. Here, the Free Provision of Period Products Bill 2021 is before the Seanad. It states that “everyone who needs to use period products may obtain them free of charge” but provides little by way of further detail.

The Programme for Government pledged free period products in educational facilities. We need more than vague promises now. If we can put hand sanitiser at every door, how much more complex could it be to provide free tampons in pharmacies, schools and public buildings? Tackling period poverty isn’t just about access to tampons and pads, however. It is about taking the stigma out of a bodily function experienced by half the population for roughly half their lives.

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