Period Poverty is a global issue that affects over 500 million people worldwide. Hannah Byrne examines how it is being dealt with in Ireland.
Period poverty is an issue that affects many people who menstruate in Ireland and around the world. A period poverty report in Ireland done in January 2021 found that 85,000 individuals in Ireland are at risk of period poverty. This statistic is only one of the many stark figures to show that period poverty is an issue in all communities worldwide. In 2022, Scotland became the first country worldwide to make period products free for those who need them. How does Ireland fare in comparison?
The movie I, Daniel Blake contains a scene where a character is caught shoplifting period products, this struck a chord with Claire Hunt of Positive Period Ireland and prompted her to create the organisation. “It was something I hadn’t thought about - period poverty, it was something I just never knew about and sadly it is very much still an issue in this country.” Positive Period Ireland is an organisation that collects and donates period products to a range of people who are in need as well as looking at the positive side of periods. Claire lists some of these as food banks, direct provision centres, DEIS schools, sex workers and homeless people.
Positive Period Ireland started at a time that Hunt described as a “silent space” for conversations around periods. Despite the impact that the organisation has had in breaking this silence, by supplying hundreds of products and collaborating with brands such as Lidl to provide free period products, she believes that not enough is being done by the government to stop period poverty. “In the last year, I kind of stopped doing the donation points in the hope that the government would step in and do something meaningful as opposed to a little soundbite on women’s day, but that, unfortunately, hasn’t happened, which is just ridiculous in this day and age, so [I’m] still pushing for universal period products.” She added, “There is very much silence around the issue at the moment, come Women’s Day and things like that there is a little bit of traction but it is quite frustrating because as you know periods happen every month.”
“I kind of stopped doing the donation points in the hope that the government would step in and do something meaningful as opposed to a little soundbite on women’s day, but that, unfortunately, hasn’t happened”
A discussion paper about Period Poverty in Ireland was published in January 2021 by Minister for Children, Equality, Disability, Integration and Youth Roderic O’Gorman and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly. In this report, a key finding stated, “Overall annual costs of period products per woman are estimated at €96.72. With the inclusion of pain relief, this can be estimated at a minimum of €121 per annum.”
Living in an age when the cost of living is continuously rising, these additional costs placed on menstruation products each year add to people’s already large essential financial burden. “With issues, they can go on and off the radar, sadly this issue is very much off the radar at the moment which is a shame because with the cost of living crisis that is going on at the moment obviously this impacts more and more people.” Hunt continued, “I think something does need to be done on a government level – less talking, more action.” Hunt emphasised the stark reality for many people facing period poverty; “Talking about periods can often be a trendy thing to do, but I think we need to focus on providing products to those who need them, because there are women in all of our communities who have to go without and use tissues or whatever else.”
Hunt was involved in a motion by Deputy Catherine Martin in 2019 regarding universal period products. The Irish government addressed this matter again in February 2021, raising “The Free Provision of Period Products Bill 2021.” At the time of writing, Gov.ie states that the bill is on stage 3 of 11 before being passed. Gov.ie last updated the bill on 8th February 2021. In more recent measures, the Budget for 2023 stated that VAT will be reduced to zero on period products. Regarding this, Hunt stated, “The VAT is only on the newer products like the moon cups and period pants, In Ireland, sanitary pads and tampons aren’t actually subject to VAT. In the grand scheme of things, yes it is a nice gesture but it is pretty insignificant.”
Speaking about Positive Period Ireland, Hunt was clear on her view of the organisation, “It’s not a charity, I don’t fundraise, I purely collect products only because I firmly believe it shouldn’t be a charity, It shouldn’t exist, there should be no need for an initiative like this.” Positive Period Ireland has collaborated with UCD since 2018, organising collection points around the campus, Hunt praised the dedication of UCD staff and students during this time and thanked them for their donations, “Mary Gallagher Cooke and Carla Gummerson were both absolutely fantastic and supportive of the initiative.”
“I purely collect products only because I firmly believe it shouldn’t be a charity, It shouldn’t exist, there should be no need for an initiative like this."
Within the UCD community, The James Joyce Library, alongside the Students’ Union, and with support from the University Management Team, has carried out an End Period Poverty campaign. Deputy University Librarian and director of operations, Lorna Dodds, headed the campaign started by UCD Libraries in October 2021. This campaign saw free pads and tampons being placed in the library’s bathrooms. Dodds spoke to the University Observer about how this campaign began.
She described it as “A collaboration between UCD Library and UCD Students’ Union, and we also worked with the Dean of Students.” Dodd continued, “I thought it would make perfect sense for the library to offer this kind of service, the reason I felt that is because the library is one of the few services in the university that is actually used equally by all students across the university.”
Ms Dodds initially went to the Dean of Students, Jason Last, who supported the project and put her in contact with UCD Students’ Union, who had already been distributing free period products. “There had been agreement across the university to roll this out on a university level but it hadn’t really gotten legs yet,” Dodds stated, “The library is a large enough unit that we can undertake a project on our own.” From this point, Dodds found a team of volunteers within the library who agreed to help with the restocking of products in the bathrooms, “The Dean of Students very kindly shared some of the initial costs with us in terms of the vending machines and in the library we made the commitment to purchase the stock, [...] The SU had a deal with the supplier of products, and they let us purchase using that deal, they brought the products over for us and our staff checked and restocked our bathrooms.”
Dodds praised the Students’ Union team of 2021, particularly Carla Gummerson, in her role as graduate officer, and Molly Greenough, as Welfare Officer, who assisted the team in planning the execution of the scheme and making sure that the products were stocked in ladies, men’s and disability toilets. “Libraries should be as inclusive a place as possible and should serve all members of our community equally and so it just seems to fit really well with the ethos of what we do in libraries,” stated Lorna. “Once you start to provide a service like this it is really obvious it should have been there all the time.” Dodds went on to mention that as well as the campaign tackling period poverty, it also can be useful for a student who begins their period and has no products with them, “It’s obviously aimed at the poverty angle but also any student can be caught out in the library. On a very personal level, I am a mother of two teenage girls, and I am a woman as well. I have an understanding of how it’s very easy to get caught out on this sort of thing.”
“Once you start to provide a service like this it is really obvious it should have been there all the time.”
The group received a “Values in Action” award from UCD in December 2022. Dodd commented, “I’m really proud of the initiative anyway, but then to get an award for it was really lovely.” She added that colleagues from public libraries have expressed their interest in carrying out a similar scheme in their libraries. “It’s definitely going to continue, the University management team had agreed, there is kind of a public service agreement that this will be rolled out across public service buildings,[...] we just kind of went and did it, there is actually a University group looking at Period Poverty, and I got to join that group, it is now actively being rolled out across the whole campus” added Ms Dodds. “The way we were doing it in the library, it is not sustainable for library staff to be going around and refilling all the time. I was always very clear that this was a pilot and we need to find a more sustainable approach. UCD estates and the Education, Disability and Inclusions office are leading out from this and they have identified a range of heavily used buildings across campus where they are contracting a new service and the library is being included in that.”
It is clear that people are starting to pay attention to period poverty in Ireland and around the world, but what is also clear is the consequences that people within communities around the world are being forced to face daily, before something is done to tackle period poverty.