Proposed laws could mean period products are provided free of charge for those who need them at designated, accessible places across the Territory.
Labor backbencher Suzanne Orr will today (15 December) release an exposure draft bill for public consultation before its introduction to the Assembly next year.
As well as requiring the government to provide period products for free, the bill will require information on menstrual hygiene to be made available to everyone at ACT Government shopfronts, as well as libraries and educational institutions.
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 – which is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand-washing facilities and waste management – does affect 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 there is some stigma associated with accessing these products at community pantries and the like.
The bill recognises that an inability to access sanitary products negatively impacts a person’s wellbeing and leads to them withdrawing from activities such as school, work or social activities until their period is over.
“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,” Ms Orr said.
She noted that period products are one of the starkest additional costs that those who menstruate bear compared to their non-menstruating counterparts in society.
Ms Orr has worked closely with Labor Party member Pradeep Sornaraj – a Tamil migrant from India who now lives in Canberra – to develop the bill.
Mr Sornaraj saw many people in his home country treat menstruation as a taboo and shameful topic, but he didn’t expect to see that in the “affluent, educated society” of Canberra.
Mr Sornaraj has repeatedly raised the issue within the party, first bringing a motion to the Gungahlin sub-branch in 2020 and then at the most recent ACT Labor conference where he presented a successful resolution to have the party adopt universal period product access as policy.
Ms Orr said she was now really pleased to take the topic forward on behalf of Mr Sornaraj.
A survey will also be launched alongside the exposure draft of the bill asking respondents about their experiences and stigma around periods and what they think will help reduce it.
The draft will now go through public consultation and with stakeholders such as unions, not-for-profits, tertiary education organisations, schools, the ACT Greens and the Canberra Liberals.
If introduced, the ACT would be the only jurisdiction in the country to have these laws in place, following the example of Scotland which became the first country in the world to enact similar legislation in 2020.
Period products are already free in ACT schools.