Every government school in Victoria will now provide students free pads and tampons in a bid to to reduce shame and embarrassment around periods for girls and ease the cost of living on families.
An Australian first, the $20.7 million initiative will be rolled out to more than 1500 government schools across Victoria. The menstrual products will be made available to tens of thousands of female students free of charge in school bathrooms, relieving anxiety for girls, reducing period poverty, making public schools more inclusive and providing support so that students can focus on their education.
“Lack of easy access to pads and tampons can negatively impact on students’ participation in sport and everyday school activities,” the Victorian government said in a statement. “Students may not be able to concentrate in class, feel comfortable or feel confident doing physical activity, or they may miss school altogether.”
Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams added, “Getting your period is a normal part of life and sanitary items are a basic necessity. We’re ensuring all girls in our public schools have access to pads and tampons when they need them, so they can focus on their studies.”
The state of Victoria joins nations such as Scotland and New Zealand in making pads and tampons free at schools and universities.
This development comes on the back of the removal of the “tampon tax”, a Goods and Services Tax (GST) on feminine hygiene products that prompted an 18-year struggle from women’s groups who argued that tampons and sanitary products are essential items – not luxury items – and that the tax was unfairly targeting the female gender.
The tax has been scrapped, but discussing the topic of menstruation remains taboo in many parts of society– though it is easing.
The Sustainable Period Project, a world-first collaboration between some of Australia and New Zealand’s largest sustainable and reusable menstrual companies including Lunette, Modibodi, TOM Organic, Natracare and Organ(y)c, are helping to change cultural attitudes and practices about menstruation.
More importantly, the coalition are exposing students to sustainable period products in an effort to reduce waste by providing schools with demonstration kits containing reusable products such as menstrual cups, period underwear and cloth pads. Since launching in February 2018, 2066 kits have been sent to Australian high schools.
According to the Sustainable Period Project, there are six million people of menstruating age in Australia and New Zealand, and each will use roughly 1,000-16,000 disposable menstrual products in their lifetime.
Providing free menstrual products to public school students is a start, but with so much hidden plastic in disposable period products (some pads are made of 90% plastic) and tampons and pads being two of the biggest culprits for plastic-based marine pollution, the Victorian government should consider giving students options for sustainable and reusable menstrual products as well.
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Cover image by Karolina Grabowska.