For struggling families, sanitary products can come last after food, shelter and other household necessities, while those fleeing domestic violence or who have nowhere safe to stay may not stop to consider packing tampons or pads.
Others struggle with the stigma of trying to access such products at food pantries or other community organisations.
Pradeep Sornaraj – a Tamil migrant from India – wants to make sure it never happens here after witnessing the impact stigma and limited accessibility to products had on women in his home country.
The push comes after Scotland’s passed historic legislation at the end of last year to create a legal duty for local authorities to ensure sanitary items like tampons and sanitary pads are available for free to “anyone who needs them”.
Affordability can be one problem, but accessibility can be equally inhibiting.
Mr Sornaraj said people in his community, particularly from multicultural backgrounds, do not want to talk about periods or menstruation, associating it with shame.
“I spent most of my young age overseas in a strong ethnic community where period and menstruation is a taboo topic associated with shame and stigma,” he said.
“When I migrated to ACT, I was expecting to see an affluent, educated society. But deep within, I saw a number of families and individuals who are greatly affected by period poverty, which got worse in the current COVID situation.”
The Ngunnawal Street Pantries is currently supporting about 10 families and individuals each week, which he says is evidence that people in Canberra are falling through the cracks and cannot afford basic hygiene products.
Mr Sornaraj, a Labor party member, has attempted to bring the issue to the ACT Legislative Assembly, first bringing a motion to the Gungahlin sub-branch last year and then raising it again at this year’s ACT Labor conference.
The local member for Yerrabi, Suzanne Orr, has now taken on the issue and is pushing forward with reforms in the Assembly.
Details about the reform remain scarce as Ms Orr continues to discuss the matter with the community and her Labor Party colleagues, but she does have the blessing of Chief Minister Andrew Barr to press ahead with the topic in the Assembly.
“[Pradeep] knows a lot of people in the community that find it really hard to reach out and have that conversation around managing their periods, their hygiene and getting access to period products,” she said.
“When you start having these conversations about something that is a completely normal bodily function that happens to a lot of people, we are still not sure about how to process this.
“There is a lot there to talk about about how we destigmatise what is a normal bodily function for women and the impact it has on us.”
While period poverty, which also includes not having access to knowledge about how to effectively and hygienically manage periods, may not seem like a big problem in a city as affluent as Canberra, conversations of this nature are few and far between.
Australian of the Year, Grace Tame, who spoke on International Women’s Day and mentioned how happy she was to get her period for the first time in two years, seemed to break this taboo.
“I spoke to a number of people after that and we all agreed that it was strange to hear someone speak on such a large platform, and such a public platform, about their period,” Ms Orr said.
“I have made a conscious decision since then, and if people say ‘hey, how are you going?’ and I have my period, I’ll say, ‘I’m a bit uncomfortable, so bear that in mind if I start squirming in my chair, it’s OK’.”
Tampons and pads are already available at schools across Canberra, but Ms Orr wants to expand the program across the Territory so no woman needs to pull out of an activity because they cannot access sanitary products.
“It is great for our students because we know that they have access to period products,” Ms Orr said.
“What I am interested in for Canberra is how do we take it from being accessible in schools to being accessible to everyone in our community in a way that does not create any shame or stigma?”