Free pads & tampons for South Australian schools. But is it enough?

In February the South Australian Government announced that it would allocate $450,000 to public schools in order to provide students with free pads and tampons. The $450,000 will be handed out over the next 3 years based upon how many students who bleed attend each school in Year 5 and above. The grant aims to stop menstruation and the cost of period products being a barrier to learning.

Education Minister John Gardner said, “We want to ensure that no girl or young woman in South Australia is missing school because they don’t have access to sanitary products. Every young person deserves to attend school feeling happy, cared for and ready to learn.”

The initiative has been rolled out after a trial at SA schools last year found while period products were available from the school nurse, students often felt uncomfortable and embarrassed to ask for them and would instead sometimes miss class when they had their period but were out of product. The trial worked together with students to discover how the students would best like to access the period products, whether it be a box in a specific room or a codeword students said to staff when asking for the products. In 2020 Victoria became the first Australian state to provide free pads and tampons to students.

Image sourced from Unsplash

While the move is certainly a step in the right direction to end period poverty in our own state, the $450,000 allocated by the SA Government to be dispersed over 3 years roughly equates to $3 per menstruating student. $3 will buy 1 pack of 16 non brand synthetic pads at the supermarket, enough for 1 period, providing the individual is not a heavy bleeder. 1 packets of pads over three years per student. Let that sink in. Simply, the initiative put forward by the South Australian Government doesn’t go far enough to tackle period poverty in schools. Further funding is vital if we are to ensure that students will not have to miss school because they cannot afford period products. Further funding is necessary to ensure already underpaid teachers aren’t buying period products for their students in order to safeguard their education.

Further to this, last year’s trial in 15 SA public schools uncovered that students feel embarrassed and uncomfortable asking staff for pads and tampons when in need, showing that the taboo and stigma around menstruation and period products is still rife. Governments should look to a tandem approach in schools that includes both further financial support along with improved sexual health education that normalises necessary biological functions such as menstruation. It is both concerning and confounding that the Government’s trial identified the stigma around periods as a key barrier to education, with students using “codewords” for period products and menstruation, but have failed to fully address the taboo in the initiative. Codewords and euphemisms further reinforce that menstruation must not be spoken about and is therefor somehow shameful.

Schools should be a place where young people learn that periods are a completely normal and necessary bodily function that is to be celebrated, not clandestinely whispered about. The current initiative put forward by the South Australian Government, while a step in the right direction, is a missed opportunity to to truly tackle period poverty and the societal taboos that enable it.

Alicia Franceschini

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