The ACT has become the first jurisdiction in Australia to pass legislation requiring the government to provide free menstrual products at designated and accessible places.
The Period Products and Facilities (Access) Bill introduced by Suzanne Orr MLA passed on 7 June, leading the way for other states and territories to offer period products and information on menstrual hygiene for those who need it.
“I am pleased that here in the ACT, we are the first government to provide period products free of charge and ensure that crucial information on menstrual hygiene is available to the community,” Ms Orr said.
“The ACT is the first jurisdiction in Australia to pass this nation-leading reform, and I would encourage all other states and territories to be inspired by my bill so that no one who menstruates is ever in need.”
Rochelle Courtenay, founder and managing director of women’s charity Share the Dignity, told Region: “It’s very significant. There’s nothing like it in Australia.”
While access to free menstrual products in public locations was pledged as a policy in the 2022 Victoria state election, the ACT is the first jurisdiction to enshrine it into law. It follows in the footsteps of Scotland, the first country in the world to make period products free.
Share the Dignity has been working alongside the ACT Government to figure out how the legislation will be implemented. Ms Courtenay said it will be a staggered rollout, but free menstrual products will be available at schools, tertiary education institutions, TAFE providers, hospitals and community centres.
Share the Dignity’s ‘Bloody Big Survey’, with more than 125,000 respondents, revealed that many Australians are struggling to access period products, with 15 per cent of participants in the ACT answering that they were unable to afford menstrual products at some point in their life.
Almost half of the respondents – 49 per cent – said that they wore a pad or tampon for more than four hours because they didn’t have any more, and 22 per cent have had to improvise by using toilet paper or some other makeshift period product. In all, over 52,000 participants in the survey said that they sometimes, regularly or always find it difficult to buy period products due to their cost.
But, as Ms Courtenay pointed out, “the bill is not just about access, it’s talking about educating [to remove] shame and stigma”.
Ms Orr said that the bill seeks to tackle the ongoing stigma associated with periods and the varying cultural differences and beliefs surrounding menstruation that can cause people to view it as taboo.
“Access to menstruation hygiene is vital for the community due to these cultural differences and will be available in many languages,” she said.
“Periods are a normal bodily function, yet they are still heavily stigmatised in society, making people uncomfortable talking about periods. Asking friends when you need a tampon or asking a boss for time off because of period pain are common actions often associated with nervousness because of stigma.
“It shouldn’t be this way. No one should be ostracised because they do not have access to the products, facilities and understanding they need to respond to a normal bodily function.”
Share the Dignity’s survey found that 41 per cent of respondents felt embarrassed talking about their period. Ms Courtenay said attitudes are starting to shift, but “it’ll take a generation before we remove the shame and stigma”.
She hopes that the educational aspect of the bill will help eliminate the stigma and said that schools need to educate all pupils on periods because “even if you don’t get your period, you come from someone who did”.