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"Period poverty" Bill aims to help high school students

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A bill to be introduced to State Parliament this month aims to set up a six-month trial of free menstruation products for state high school students.

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Co-sponsored by Labor MLC Irene Pnevmatikos and SA-BEST’s Connie Bonaros, the Bill would provide free tampons and pads at metropolitan and regional schools.

The bill was originally introduced last year in November but due to the last parliamentary session being prorogued it will be introduced again in the sitting week of March 23.

Pnevmatikos said the Statutes Amendment (Free Menstrual Hygiene Products Pilot Programme) Bill formed off-the-back of the Commissioner for Children and Young Peoples’ “Leave No One Behind” report.

The report said that ‘period poverty’ – having limited access to sanitary products due to financial limitations – was a “real issue” for a number of South Australian individuals in focus groups.

“Girls told us about missing school because they couldn’t afford sanitary products,” the report published late last year says.

“A number of girls spoke about the products being available at school, but that the process of accessing them was embarrassing and required quite a lot of self-disclosure, which many were not comfortable to provide.”

Pnevmatikos said although the data focused on young peoples’ perception and experiences of poverty in South Australia, it showed that “girls were missing school because they couldn’t afford sanitary products”.

“Basically what we’re looking at is a trial programme … to provide pre-menstrual hygiene products in government high schools for a six-month period, and then a review to be undertaken to look at the feasibility and the advisability of introducing it across the board in state schools,” she said.

Pnevmatikos said period poverty not only affected students, but also teachers.

“It certainly impacts daily on girls’ lives, but it also means in the longer-term school attainment is reduced for these girls, which means their potential of their life is impacted as well.”

“One of the things that was identified as well was that at this point in time in schools, there are sanitary products available, (but) women teachers are providing them from their own pocket.

“It’s unacceptable.”

A 2017 University of Queensland study outlined basic sanitary products are often too expensive, not available, or shameful to use by women and girls in Australia’s Aboriginal communities.

Instead of buying “expensive” sanitary products at $10 a packet some use toilet paper, socks or rags.

Pnevmatikos said South Australia’s regional centres were particularly prone to a lack of menstrual “services” but period poverty was endemic across the entire state.

The news comes almost two weeks after a policy in Scotland jumped the first of three hurdles to offer free menstrual products for all women.

The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill was passed unanimously with 112-0 votes, and would enshrine a legal obligation for the government to provide free tampons and pads for those who need it.

Scotland has already committed to providing public schools with these items.

In Victoria, a four-year $20.7 million program provides free menstruation items in government schools because “being able to access sanitary products shouldn’t be a barrier for girls and young women to getting the most out of their education,” a department press release says.

Bonaros said SA girls and women should be able to manage their menstruation hygienically and without stigma, irregardless of personal or financial circumstances.

“It is a well-known fact that an inability to access pads and tampons can negatively impact on young person’s education, sporting pursuits and other activities,” Bonaros said in a statement.

“In a society as rich as South Australia, such a circumstance is completely unacceptable.”

The Bill to come before State Parliament doesn’t detail how the trial’s success would be measured, what it would cost or how it would  be funded.

“The Minister (for Education) can decide how to implement this pilot program, how many schools and how many girls will be involved in the pilot program, and then we can sit down and look at the effects of the pilot programme, and perhaps work towards developing policy, and costing what a programme rolled out across state schools would look like,” Pnevmatikos said.

“It (funds) has to come from the Education Department’s budget, but I’m not the Treasurer.”

InDaily contacted Education Minister John Gardner’s office about the trial proposal but did not receive a respond before deadline.

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