It was the last day of term one in Grade 7 at my primary school. It was unusually warm for April so because of this I was wearing a blue school skirt. I remember that fact because this was the day the I got my first period. And oh boy, was I stoked! I had been awaiting this welcome into womanhood since my mum had sat me down and given me a cute little book explaining mensturation and the development of the female body when I was 10 years old. She had answered my questions openly, honestly and with love. I was equipped on ‘The Day’ with a small cosmetics bag packed with a panty liner and slightly surfboard-like pad that mum had placed in my school bag since one of my friends had gotten her period back in Grade 5. I knew what to do with the pads because my mum had explained to me how to use them. Looking back, I know I was lucky to have that experience and to feel proud and oh so grown up when my menses arrived. Though period parties or ‘moon parties’ didn’t exist back in 2002 (that I know of), I was partying in my head. I know now that not every girl is afforded that same positive experience, abroad and even in Australia. Not every girl feels pride at the arrival of her period and has a parent willing to give them the correct information that girl’s so desperately to not be scared and confronted when they begin to bleed. More than that, not every girl has access to sanitary products in the same way that I did and do, and heck, that needs to change.
On October 15th the Premier Daniel Andrews announced that if the Victorian Labor Government is to be re-elected it will place free pads and tampons in public schools. About time! The free sanitary products would be available from term three of 2019. Looking back to my school days, I never saw a free pad or tampon, not once. I’m sure they were there in the school sick bay, but not readily available in say, the school bathrooms. There were moments when I was caught out and instead of asking the school nurse for a pad, I simply used some folded toilet paper to see me through the day before I could get home and replenish my supplies. Even a progressive teen like me was too embarrassed to ask for a pad from an adult I didn’t know very well.
The move to introduce free pads and tampons will help to further break down the stigma that young boys and girls feel about mensturation and sanitary products. If they’re in plain sight in schools all the time, they’ll eventually become normalised. Health Minister Jill Hennessey said the Australia first move was about “giving female students the dignity they deserve and helping families with the cost of living along the way”.
That many young girls do not have access to sanitary products in Australia is an unfathomable fact in 2018. It is heart breaking to imagine on the day your first period arrives being terrified because you know you’re family cannot afford this simple necessity. Placing free pads and tampons in schools and giving students easy and discrete if necessary access to them is the first step in ending period poverty within Australia and ensuring student’s who bleed receive the same level of education as those who don’t.
In a statement Hennessey went on to say:
“We know that students who do not have access to sanitary products often cannot concentrate in class, may not feel comfortable doing physical activity, or may miss school altogether.
It can create unnecessary stress for students trying to navigate finding a tampon or pad, and that may delay regularly changing them, placing them at greater risk of toxic shock or cervical cancer.
Young women and girls at school shouldn’t have to worry about having access to a basic necessity like tampons and pads.”
Australian company Share The Dignity have been providing ‘Dignity Vending Machines’ in Australian schools for the past couple of years. They have 50 vending machines Australia wide that dispense a free pack of 6 tampons or 2 pads. The vending machines are also located in homeless shelters, domestic violence shelters and Aboriginal health centres.
Words by Alicia Franceschini