Victorian students who menstruate now have easier access to pads and tampons after the Victorian government announced on Wednesday that the period products are freely available in every public school across the state.
According to the Victorian government, the initiative — which is a first for Australia and was announced in 2018 before it began rolling out last year — has finally been completed, with tampons and pads now available across all 1,500 government schools. The scheme is expected to boost inclusivity, save families hundreds of dollars each year and reduce the “discomfort and embarrassment” around periods.
Alongside free products, students will also receive health information on how to safely and effectively manage their periods.
Enabling students to access free sanitary items in school bathrooms is a key step toward ensuring nobody has to miss class while menstruating and students can get the most from their education, Victoria’s Minister for Education James Merlino said.
Merlino added this was particularly crucial for pupils who struggle to afford menstrual products each month.
"We’re proud to be providing free sanitary items in all Victorian government schools to ensure that students — regardless of their background or circumstances — can focus and participate fully in their education,” Merlino said in a media release.
Minister for Women Gabrielle Williams echoed Merlino’s comments and added that sanitary products are a necessity, not a luxury.
"Getting your period is a normal part of life, and sanitary items are a basic necessity,” she said.
Huge news for Victoria this afternoon, becoming the first state or territory in Australia to ensure all students attending government schools have access to free #pads and #tampons: https://t.co/w0UOOWZCPp#menstruation#periodpoverty#reproductivehealth— Family Planning NSW (@FamPlanningNSW) July 28, 2020
Over 3 million Australians live below the relative poverty line, and more than half have a period each month.
While the impact of periods on Australian school-aged children is under-researched, a recent Queensland University of Technology (QUT) report showed an overall lack of awareness about menstrual management and hygiene among students.
"Period poverty is a real issue that is under-researched,” Ruth Knight from The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies based at QUT said in a statement. “We have anecdotal evidence of teachers personally donating products, but there is a lack of data about the level of need.”
Knight added: “We’ve been told girls use socks or rolled up toilet paper with underwear left on the floor or in bins while toilets are only accessible at certain times of the day. Unfortunately, what is a basic human right is often seen as a taboo topic.”
Victoria’s free pads and tampons initiative follows the Australian government’s unanimous decision to remove the tax on sanitary items, which came into effect in early 2019. The products, which were previously considered non-essential, now join other tax-free health-related items like condoms and Viagra.
Menstrual health advocates in Australia say the country still has a long way to go to achieve menstrual equity.
Campaigners and health advocates, including the Royal Australian and New Zealand College of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists, are calling for federal government action to enable free access to period products for all menstruating Australians.