14 December 2021

Calls to end period poverty, make products free for all in the ACT

| Lottie Twyford
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girl handing her friend a pad in the bathroom

Labor backbencher Suzanne Orr is calling for period products to be made free for those who need them in the ACT. Photo: Annika Gordon.

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.

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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.

Suzanne Orr and Pradeep Sornaraj

Suzanne Orr and Pradeep Sornaraj have worked together to develop legislation to make period products free in the ACT. Photo: Supplied.

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.

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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.

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It is a another silly idea because then you should also make all essential sanitary and health products free. Like toilet paper, condoms, toothpaste, dental floss, mouthwash, asprin, bandaids………

Capital Retro12:49 pm 18 Dec 21

Incontinence nappies?

This too is a pointless argument. All in the above list are universal needs or discretionary but similarly beneficial between sexes. Period products are (in our social context) non-discretionary items whose need and cost falls on a specifically identifiable and constant half of the population. Alleviating that discriminatory cost, especially for those without their own or sufficient income, is a reasonable social proposition; and not even novel (as noted in the article).

“If Men got periods this would already be in place!! About time!”

This has got to be the dumbest take here.

Men have significantly worse health outcomes than women across the board.

The idea that society would prioritise this issue if it affected men doesn’t stack up to any viewing of the evidence. Men are disposable in our society.

Capital Retro12:48 pm 18 Dec 21

You are right chewy, there are plenty of “Womens'” and “Childrens'” hospitals but I don’t recall seeing any “Mens” ones.

To Petra Odden Rickman – if men had periods we’d have a national holiday every month.

William Newby1:44 pm 16 Dec 21

A valid initiative, but the ELEPHANT in the room here is that realestate values (and soon enough rents) have shot up over 21-42% this year. At this pace even those in full time jobs will need social support for the most basic items.

Roberto Taglienti7:42 pm 15 Dec 21

Gold, forget women struggling to pay their rent!!!!! Let’s pretend to help women instead….

Fantastic! I shop lifted sanitary products as a young teenager (13 and 14 years old) because I didn’t have a functioning family or someone I could ask to buy them for me. And couldn’t legally be employed until 15. No one should be put in that position. Well done putting forward this bill.

Did you read the last sentence?

These products are already free in schools.

They weren’t when I was a teenager. Also unfortunately you don’t get to choose when your period starts so weekends, evenings, school holidays etc other avenues would be fantastic.

Capital Retro9:03 pm 15 Dec 21

Now you are a mature, self-sufficient adult I assume you will be compensating the store where you had stolen the said items?

Unfortunately it was individuals, different stores etc in a different state so that wasn’t possible and we are now talking decades ago. I do however frequently donate products to share the dignity so that others don’t repeat my actions.
So glad this bill will reduce the likelihood of another youngster resorting to stealing and of course the impacts on shops etc!

They weren’t when you were a teenager but are now. And we aren’t talking a large expense so holidays or weekends if you forgot to stock up isn’t really an issue.

How many adults do you think are in a situation such that they don’t have the ability to purchase these products themselves?

Do we really think that this is a good use of the government’s time, when they could make far more meaningful impacts elsewhere?

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