Sarah Kennelly talks about Ireland’s shame around periods, and governmental attempts to introduce free period products for all menstruators.
Periods, for many, are a topic only discussed in hushed tones. We are raised to believe that menstruation is a subject that is much too offensive to bring up in casual conversation. Hiding tampons up your sleeve and getting your friends to discreetly check for leakage is a norm for menstruators from an early age. Cisgender men have especially reinforced this stigma by continuing to shame those who share their lived experiences of periods. Both little boys and grown men seem to have the same reaction of shock and disgust when period blood is even alluded to.
This response is mirrored in the Dáil which has historically comprised mostly of male TDs, 77.5% to be exact. Our male-dominated government has been too concerned with their internalised misogyny to adequately deal with period policy. Deputy Marcella Corcoran Kennedy even made the shocking revelation that the word “menstruation” has only appeared 27 times in Oireachtas records. 27 times. How can something which affects such a large section of society be excluded from the conversation so consistently?
This has led to a crisis of period poverty in Ireland which is too often overlooked by the politicians it does not affect. Research by Plan International shockingly revealed that 50% of Irish women between the ages of 12-19 struggle to afford menstrual products. We have all been there, not having coins for the tampon machine and being forced to fashion our own makeshift pad out of toilet paper. This is not only unhygienic but is inhumane. The situation is even worse for menstruators who are homeless or living in direct provision where period products are scarce. These humiliating moments are not experienced by cisgender men, whose natural bodily functions are accommodated for by the state. If we can have free soap and toilet paper in public bathrooms why not tampons?
This is precisely the argument that Labour Senator Rebecca Moynihan made last January when she introduced a bill that advocated for the government to provide free period products. She worked closely with Scottish officials who successfully led a free period products campaign, to build the most comprehensive and effective bill possible. The bill calls on the state to provide universally free, safe, and sustainable period products. It also demands that an objective menstrual education be provided to all children to combat period stigma.
Although the future of this bill seemed bright, Fianna Fáil decided to put forth their own bill which has been criticised for not going far enough. The proposal is far less extensive than Labour’s approach and fails to outline measures that will provide all menstruators with access to free period products. It places weaker legal obligations on the government to provide these products and does not even define what “free” is, leaving that up to interpretation. It also fails to promote environmentally friendly products, which will have a negative effect on the already disastrous state of our climate. As Senator Moynihan said, the bill seems to “[pay] lip service to doing something without actually looking at the issue”. This is true where the bill fails to recognise the importance of a more complete menstrual education programme to help destigmatise periods. As a whole, Fianna Fáil’s plan will not adequately address the issue of period poverty or enact any meaningful change in the lives of menstruators who struggle to afford period products on a monthly basis.
The government still remains in talks about the issue, stating they need more research and data collection. This delay only extends the suffering of individuals who are being denied the basic human right of a hygienic and safe menstrual cycle. The future of free period products in Ireland seems positive. However, it is unclear whether the government will make yet another hollow gesture to alleviate criticism or enact policy that will effectively eradicate period poverty.