Chances are you haven’t spent much time thinking about how you’re going to access pads or tampons the next time your period arrives. This is simply a luxury that so many of us take for granted.
But this is a real concern for many others. Period poverty refers to when a person can’t afford the most basic of essentials to be able to deal with their period. Unfortunately, this issue is still greatly under-researched so there’s no telling how many menstruating people* are affected by this.
Rochelle Courtenay is the founder and managing director of Share the Dignity — a charity that distributes period products to make a real, on the ground difference in the lives of those experiencing homelessness, fleeing domestic violence, or doing it tough. According to Courtenay, those living with period poverty in Australia could be well over a million people and the COVID-19 pandemic has only worsened these stats.
“Before COVID, there were 3.2 million Australians living under the poverty line. It is now projected that there will be five million Australians living under the poverty line,” Courtenay told TheLatch—.
“Let’s assume that only one million of those are menstruating people who cannot afford rent, electricity and food. They are not going to buy sanitary items or they are very last on their list.”
A devastating consequence of period poverty is that if people are able to get their hands on a pad or tampon, they often use them for a few days before changing them. Others rely on rolled-up toilet paper or socks in lieu of pads and tampons.
Period poverty can also lead to young people skipping school. Without pads or tampons to catch their menstruation, students often take multiple days off school every month to avoid a potential mishap without period products. Others skip physical education or drop out of sport completely due to their periods.
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We are thrilled to have the Retail First shopping centres back on board once again for our August Dignity Drive kicking off on Saturday 1 August. You cannot miss their delightfully pink collection boxes just waiting for you to fill with packets of pads, tampons, liners, period underwear, menstrual cups and incontinence products located in their centres Thanks in advance for helping those dealing with period poverty and making a difference.
In order to end period poverty, a three-pronged approach is needed. Easy access of sanitary items is obviously integral but so is education around periods and ending the shame and stigma attached to menstruation.
“Unless we remove the shame and stigma, we’re still not going to have women asking for products when they need them,” Courtenay said. “So instead of asking they will leave a tampon in for two days or they will use wadded up toilet paper or socks to deal with their period.
“We need to remove the shame and stigma and provide better education around periods while also starting conversations that don’t involve kids at school putting their head down and thinking ‘Oh my god, how much longer until this is over?’ because they’re so ashamed about it.
“Then there’s obviously getting the product out to those who need it the most, who cannot afford the most basic of essentials.”
“We need to remove the shame and stigma and provide better education around periods.”
Share the Dignity is attempting to do just that. Since 2015, Courtenay and her team have launched multiple initiatives aimed at giving dignity to those who menstruate including the Dignity Drive and It’s In The Bag.
Twice a year, Share the Dignity asks the public to donate pads, tampons, period underwear, incontinence pads and menstrual cups for those in need. There are collection points in all Woolworths stores and a number of other nominated businesses where you can donate these products.
“In March and August, we put up collection boxes around Australia because I don’t believe there’s a woman who wouldn’t give a packet of pads or tampons to a person in need,” Courtenay said.
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Just loving on these pics from our brand new Shero Jennifer! This is her first-ever Dignity Drive as a volunteer and she has even decorated the donation box! The team at her @woolworths_au have been doing their own fundraising for Share the Dignity too, they currently have a raffle running for customers where all money raised will be used to buy products to put into their collection box. They've already raised enough for $96 worth of products! Amazing work @woolworths_au
The COVID-19 induced panic buying in March railroaded the first Dignity Drive of the year and the team were forced to cancel it halfway through. The amount of product they collected was also way down, leaving many of the charities they work with emptyhanded.
“We would normally collect 150,000 packets of pads and tampons to get out to those 3,000 charities we work with but we didn’t,” Courtenay said. “We collected 60,000 and we couldn’t even fulfil half of the requests we had from those charities.”
The recent second wave of COVID-19 infections across the country, and specifically Victoria, have affected the donations for the second drive of the year. According to Courtenay, a quarter of donations usually come from Melbourne but this is unlikely to happen with lockdown 2.0 currently in play.
“Melbourne has a high population of women experiencing homelessness and period poverty so we’ve had to ask people to donate at their local Woolworths when they’re out shopping if they can,” she said.
“Otherwise, we’ve actually had to set up a COVID-19 cash appeal where we are actually going to have to buy the products. I’ve just finished working out logistically how we’re going to get these to Karratha, to Arnhem Land, to all of those places. Periods don’t stop for COVID. They’re happening every month and the need is just getting greater and greater.”
“Periods don’t stop for COVID. They’re happening every month and the need is just getting greater and greater.”
In November, the team will launch their annual initiative called It’s In The Bag. The Christmas appeal runs for the last two weeks of November and involves the donation of basic toiletries alongside period products. These donations can be dropped off at any Bunnings store across Australia.
“We ask people to give us a new bag or a pre-loved bag that has sanitary items, shampoo, conditioner, toothbrush, toothpaste, deodorant and soap inside,” Courtenay said. “These are the very essentials that we say every person should have access to but for many fleeing domestic violence or living in homelessness or poverty, they just don’t.”
Ending period poverty within Australia is doable but comes with a myriad of challenges. Victoria was recently the first state in the country to provide students with free sanitary items in all schools across the state.
It’s currently hard to ascertain whether this program has been successful as most students in Victoria have been undertaking remote learning for much of the year due to the COVID-10 pandemic. Still, this a good starting point.
“If the government could put them into every school that would be incredible because that saves us doing one job and using our donated funds to be able to look after other areas of the community,” Courtenay said.
“But, schools are shut for 15 weeks of the year and students are only there for a short period of time each day so while it is helpful in addressing period poverty and keeping students in school, there’s much more outside of that that also needs to be done.
“Removing the tampon tax was a great goal for Australia but we also need to keep going along and making sure that we lead the world in addressing period poverty.”
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What period products do you use to manage your period? Everyone is different, that's why the theme for this years Dignity Drive is CHOICE. We not only believe that our sisters in need have a right to period products, we believe they should be empowered when doing so. That's why we want to give those in need a choice, they deserve options with the products they use. Imagine never having used a tampon but that was the only option you were given to manage your period. We want everyone to feel empowered when they have their period. For more information on donating to our Dignity Drive, visit our website: https://www.sharethedignity.org.au/event/august-dignity-drive
Supporting the work of Share the Dignity and in turn, helping in the fight to end period poverty, is easy enough to do but it requires adding your voice to the conversation about period poverty.
“Donating money and donating product is great as is using your voice and having a conversation around period poverty and around the fact that this problem exists because nobody wants to talk about it so how can we reach more people if people don’t talk about it?” Courtenay said.
Breaking down the stigma connected to periods starts with us. Talking openly with your friends and family is a start. Forgoing bags when buying period products at the chemist is another. There’s nothing to feel ashamed about when purchasing a pack of tampons or pads.
“Imagine if all of us had conversations around menstruation without hushing the word period,” Courtenay said. “People still do it. 65% of women still hide their menstrual products when they’re doing their shopping. So put them on the top! Send your fellas out to get them. Let’s remove that shame and stigma.”
Head to the Share the Dignity website to donate money or your time. Share the Dignity is currently accepting donations of pads, tampons, menstrual cups, period underwear, reusable pads and incontinence pads at all Woolworths stores nationwide — find your closest collection point here.
* Not all those who menstruate are girls and women.