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Free the Period Product

Ireland should be next to follow in the footsteps of Scotland by making period products free

By Fiona Kane

Image courtesy of Marco Verch

In November 2020, the Scottish Government passed a bill to make period products freely available to anyone who needs them by distributing them publicly, such as leaving them in public bathrooms. Colleges, schools, and universities, as well as some other institutions, have been providing free period products in this way since at least August 2018, and the concept is set to roll out to the wider public gradually, depending on local authority provision, while funding has been provided on a smaller scale to local authorities since 2018. The Irish Government is looking at implementing something similar, and I feel that it is really important for that to happen.

Sounds pretty reasonable, right? You have a period. You need a tampon or a pad. You go to the bathroom, whether at home or outside, and you get one. No need to worry about cost or embarrassment or staining your clothes. As normal as toilet paper and hand-soap in the world of provided necessities. I personally have benefitted from such provisions on a number of occasions, as someone with a sometimes unpredictable menstrual cycle who doesn’t always remember to pack an emergency tampon and can’t always afford to buy a box. But for some reason, hundreds if not thousands of people lose the plot every time the issue is brought up.

I’m not much of a Facebook gal myself, but at least on Twitter, I see dozens of quote tweets of arguments between people for or against free period products. It always pops up on my timeline with the same points being fought over. They basically melt down to either people not understanding how periods work, or people pointing out that you can actually get a box of bleached fuzzy tampons for just 67p—with a free yeast infection thrown in! On the other hand, people arguing for free period products can be problematic in comparing the issue with the provision of free condoms, which frankly they should just stop doing as it’s nowhere near the same thing and we don’t need to downplay the AIDS crisis to bring this to the forefront. It’s already here, and free condoms are about so much more than just shagging.

Period products should be free because they are a basic necessity. For the people who think, “but if they’re free then why don’t we make toilet paper free? Or food? Or houses?” I have to say honestly… I agree. I one hundred per cent think all of those things, and anything else necessary to sustain human life and comfort, should be free. Almost 25% of the total population at any given time are in the phase of their lives when they menstruate. And such people are in general much more likely to be living in poverty, with people in more marginalised demographics being hit harder.

Does it not make sense, then, to remove the further burden of deciding whether to spend that £15 or so a month on food or period products? Nobody asked for periods, nobody enjoys them past the relief of knowing they’re not accidentally pregnant, and contrary to what seems to be popular belief, no, you can’t just hold them in. On top of that, to not be able to access period products at all or even to be caught off guard without them is embarrassing, uncomfortable, and unnecessary. I also think there should be more education around periods and period products from a younger age. Have them asserted as simply a bodily process that many people go through. Tell people what happens and how to deal with it, instead of still pushing this weird medieval notion that periods are bad and dirty. Had this been the case from an earlier stage, I wholeheartedly believe that ninety-nine per cent of the arguments against free period products would hardly be considered.

Over five million free period products were distributed in Scotland over the first academic year of the provision scheme alone, not counting prior and simultaneous individual provision by education and leisure institutions. Naturally COVID-19 will have affected the numbers for the years since, but the positive impact of this provision has been deeply felt by those thousands of us who had this advantage previously. If only the other 1.9 billion people across the world who experience periods were afforded the same respect. Hopefully the discussions in Ireland are a sign of hope. Period products should be freely available to anyone who needs them, end of story.


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