It’s about bloody time: tampons and pads should be free in Australian schools so no girl misses out

Plan International Australia is calling for free pads and tampons in all Australian schools in a bid to eradicate stigma around menstruation ahead of World Menstrual Hygiene Day (Tuesday 28 May).

The leading global girls’ rights agency works around the world to raise awareness of the challenges girls and women around the world face during menstruation.

Susanne Legena, CEO of Plan International Australia, said period poverty and the associated stigma is still a huge problem for girls worldwide.

“Period poverty is a serious problem worldwide, and right here in Australia, but few people know about it. Part of the reason that it’s hidden from view is stigma,” Ms Legena said.

“Girls everywhere face bullying and discrimination and are missing school, because they can’t afford menstrual hygiene products.

“Plan International Australia is calling for state governments to follow Victoria’s lead and introduce free pads and tampons in all Australian schools, so that no girl misses out on education and suffers disadvantage.”

Plan International’s global research has found that in the UK, 71 per cent of women felt uncomfortable discussing their period with male peers at work, while in the Solomon Islands, 52 per cent still had questions and worries about menstruation. In Uganda, 28 per cent of girls miss school when they are menstruating, and just 12 per cent of girls and women in India have access to sanitary products.

There has been a recent wave of moves to tackle period poverty, as governments around the world recognise the scale of the problem. Last November, in a first for Australia, the Victorian government announced that it would introduce free pads and tampons in government schools.

The UK announced a similar measure in March, while earlier in the year, Scotland expanded its scheme to provide free sanitary items in libraries and leisure centres, on top of schools and universities.

“It’s concerning that, in 2019, we’re still not comfortable talking about periods. Every month hundreds of millions of girls and women menstruate around the world. Yet, we still treat this normal biological process as ‘secret women’s business’,” Ms Legena added.

“We’re working to smash that stigma and to ensure all girls and women have access to appropriate products and can discuss their periods openly and without fear.”

Four ways Plan International Australia is working around the world to tackle period stigma, and support women and girls to manage their menstruation:

  • Indonesia – Like in many countries, menstruation is a taboo topic in Indonesia. Many girls find out about it on the first day of their period, rather than learning from their parents or teachers. Plan International’s local office is working with the Ministry of Health to improve the way that menstrual hygiene management is included in the national school health program.
  • Laos – A large number of girls and women in Laos can’t afford menstrual hygiene products and instead must rely on crude, improvised materials, like rags or newspaper. Plan International Laos is working with its local partner and the Ministry of Health to improve knowledge of, and attitudes towards, menstrual hygiene amongst girls and boys in rural and hard to reach regions in Laos.
  • Zimbabwe – In Zimbabwe, many schools don’t have separate toilets for girls, which can contribute to girls skipping school when they have their period. Plan International’s local office is working with school management, teachers and students to improve their knowledge and attitudes around menstrual health. Now these schools are looking to build girls’ toilets and create a supportive environment for girls during their menstruation.
  • Solomon Islands – In the Solomon Islands, local staff are working with partners to bust taboos around menstruation in schools and communities. On World Menstrual Hygiene Day, staff will be supporting live performances challenging customs and traditional taboos around periods in schools, and showcasing reusable pads in the streets of Honiara.

Plan International is also tackling period stigma globally, successfully campaigning for a period emoji to be included in the global emoji keyboard, giving girls and women worldwide a much-needed new way to talk about their periods.

About Plan International 

Plan International is a leading girls’ rights agency. We champion girls’ rights because we know that there is nowhere in the world where girls are treated as equals. We work alongside children, young people, supporters and partners to tackle the root causes of injustices facing girls and the most marginalised children.

Plan International works in more than 75 countries to help create a just world that advances children’s rights and equality for girls. Our local office, Plan International Australia funds programs to support children in more than 25 countries, as well as sponsorship programs across the federation.