Legislation that would mean period products are provided free of charge for those who need them at designated, accessible places across the Territory has been introduced to the Territory’s Legislative Assembly by Labor backbencher Suzanne Orr last week.
Since Ms Orr released an exposure draft bill for public consultation last year (15 December), the laws have been updated to ensure people have access not only to free period products but to the bathroom facilities to use these products in a private and hygienic manner.
The latter would, however, only apply to public service and Territory-funded worksites.
The bill would also require information on menstrual hygiene to be made available to everyone at ACT Government shopfronts, libraries, and educational institutions.
If the Legislative Assembly passes the laws, the Territory would be the only jurisdiction in the country to legislate the provision of free period products.
It follows the lead of Scotland, the first country in the world to enact similar legislation in 2020.
As part of the consultation process, which has been ongoing since last December, Ms Orr has met with stakeholders, including community groups, unions and other individuals who will benefit from this legislation.
Ms Orr said she has received significant feedback about the inadequate access to women’s bathrooms which can be an issue in traditionally male-dominated industries.
“It has been clear from the start that it was fundamental that this legislation not only addressed access to period products but put in place principles to ensure workers had access to bathroom and hygiene facilities while at their workplace,” she said.
“Having access to period products is impractical if a person does not have access to the facilities to be able to privately and hygienically use these products”.
Ms Orr said the engagement with the community over the past seven months had helped improve the bill to ensure the legislation is as inclusive and functional as possible.
Ms Orr is passionate about ending the stigma and shame that can be associated with periods – whether asking someone for a tampon or asking for time off work due to period pain.
“Not feeling like you can talk about periods freely and openly creates that stigma, and the only way we change that is to bring the conversation wide out into the public,” she said.
Period poverty – the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand-washing facilities and waste management – affects people in the ACT, as shown in Share the Dignity’s Bloody Big Survey in July 2021.
According to Share the Dignity, 15 per cent of respondents in the ACT have been unable to afford period products at some point in their life.
Examples could include women fleeing domestic violence who don’t stop to pack sanitary items or struggling families who might feel some stigma associated with accessing these products at community pantries, for example.
The bill will return to the Assembly for debate next year.