Rebecca Moynihan is a Labour Party member of the Seanad, and is spokesperson on housing, local government and heritage. She lives in Rialto, Dublin, where she also grew up
I find it extraordinary over the pandemic that every shop or public building was able to easily roll out easy access to hand sanitisers, but period products are still taboo and it’s up to women to deal with them in secret.
I was on Dublin City Council prior to the Seanad. In September 2018, I put a motion to provide free sanitary products in buildings such as civic offices, recreation centres, schools, education institutions, swimming pools and libraries.
I come at it from two angles. One is the aspect of period poverty and justice — you cannot live life fully if you are not able to access products. Also, it’s ridiculous that there is other sanitary provision, like toilet rolls, or soap, but not period products. There was a bit of push-back when I first suggested it, as in, ‘This is not our area of responsibility’. However, since early 2019, Dublin City Council has budgeted money towards it as a pilot project, providing free products in public buildings. I wanted to do something along the lines of what happened in Scotland, where they passed a bill to make it a legal right to access free period products. We reached out to them to find out how they did it and what they’ve learned from it. We realised there was more work to be done on that model for an Irish context; for direct provision and other vulnerable services that work is still to be done.
In 2019, the Dáil passed a motion on period poverty. The 2020 Programme for Government is committed to providing free period products in all educational facilities. This is significant not only from the period-justice side, but also in terms of removing the stigma around periods and normalising them.
I want this commitment underpinned with policies and procedures. We need to consult with users about what they want. Do they want tampons or pads or options of resuable products? We need to make sure the products are easily available, in a way that respects the dignity of those who use them. So, for example, in direct provision, they are meant to provide period products, but they are given out as part of a points-based personal-hygiene allowance. We want to change that.
Also, when we did a consultation on this, one really big issue is education. Schools get sex education but not period education.
When I was elected to the Seanad in 2020, I didn’t want to let this go. I put down a bill [The Period Products (Free Provisions) Bill] this January.
Fianna Fáil also put down a bill and the Government will be supporting that bill, which will probably become the legislation. Finally, the plan to put period products into public buildings for free moved out beyond a pilot project and, in early 2020, it was ready to go. Then, with Covid-19, a lot of the public buildings and centres closed. When those buildings finally reopen, we hope it will roll out on a much bigger scale.
A consequence of the secrecy that surrounds periods is that it has allowed commercialisation of them, and companies make a lot of money from period products.
People get periods and they get caught out and it’s nothing new or surprising. It’s shameful that products aren’t freely available. We need to start by removing the stigma. When you explain this plan to people, they often ask, ‘How much will it cost?’ Well, how much does toilet paper or soap cost, we need to ask. If there was no toilet roll provided, people would soon sit up and take notice.
In conversation with Sarah Caden