• The Student Lens

Action taken to combat period poverty

The Department of Education in Northern Ireland has taken action with the intention to eradicate period poverty in schools by introducing a £2.5 million initiative to provide free sanitary products in primaries and secondaries by September 2021 . Prior to this, schools such as Belfast Royal Academy had been forced to tackle the issue themselves through self-manufactured schemes such as the Pink Paper Bag project, set up by a member of the teaching staff, Caroline Hughes, which provided free sanitary products in toilet cubicles to better support girls along their educational journey. The parity with England, Scotland and Wales was reached largely due to volunteer-led charities such as Equality Period NI and the Homeless Period Belfast who made it their mission to advocate for free sanitary products in schools. Tampons or towels should be provided in parallel with toilet roll and other essentials, out of concern for girls who miss school due to an inability to obtain or fund these items. The Homeless Period charity found, through a recent survey, the harrowing truth of how 60% of teachers have had to buy period products for their pupils out of their own money and 74% of students have had to leave a lesson, leave school or have missed a day entirely because of a lack of access to period products. When presented to the education committee at Stormont, the necessary intervention was made.

But now Scotland has become the first country in the world to make period products free for all. A legal duty has been imposed on local authorities through the Period Products Act to provide tampons or towels to ‘anyone who needs them’ and the monthly burden placed on many women in setting aside part of their salary to purchase basic items is but a wearying memory. It has to be said that this standard renders other devolved institutions somewhat less forward-thinking. Additionally, with estimations coming from Plan International UK that 1 in 10 girls are unable to afford sanitary products, 1 in 7 have to ask to borrow sanitary wear from a friend due to affordability issues and 1 in 10 have to improvise sanitary wear, perhaps now is the pertinent time for Rishi Sunak’s abolishment of the 5% tampon tax to come into effect, be it the first step towards levelling up.

Claire Dickson

Sixth form student at Banbridge Academy in County Down, Northern Ireland. Interests in current affairs and playing the piano and viola.

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