There have been several small victories in the fight for free and accessible period products. Recently, Victoria installed period product dispensing machines in every government school. South Australia has announced that it will provide free sanitary products to all students in Year 5 and above. Additionally, the New South Wales Education Department said they were “developing work on a pilot program” that would trial handing out free pads and tampons at schools.
However, these initiatives have not translated to tertiary institutions — currently, no Australian university provides free, accessible sanitary products to their students. And as previously investigated by Honi, the presence and accessibility of period products in or around the University of Sydney is lacklustre.
As a result, students have taken it upon themselves to get free period products onto campus. The SRC, for example, maintains that period products are always available at the SRC and in the Womens’ spaces. This week, the Sydney University Engineering Undergraduate Association (SUEUA), Sydney University Women in Engineering (SUWIE) and Sydney University Queer Stem Society (QUEST) held a fundraiser to have period products ready and available to all students by Menstrual Hygiene Day on May 28.
But why should the responsibility fall onto volunteer-based student organisations to provide necessary health products to people who menstruate?
“We shouldn’t have to run events like this,” SUWIE Vice-President Bella Anderssen says. “We have had to go out of our way to provide period products that are necessary and should really be part of the staples of what the university provides.”
Failure to provide or limited access to menstrual products and poor sanitation infrastructure undermines the education opportunities, health, and overall social status of people who menstruate. The Journal of Womens’ Health reported that over one-third of menstruators miss at least one class every three months due to menstrual symptoms, pain and fatigue.
In an article for the University, USyd PhD candidate Alana Munro said that the current stigma surrounding periods leaves people “disempowered and ashamed of menstruation.”
“[The lack of knowledge on menstruation, coupled with shame and poor pragmatic guidance and support for girls to manage their periods, is linked to increased school absenteeism, poor academic performance, lower school completion rates, and increased rates of reproductive tract infections which can keep them away from school.”
The larger issue at hand is that of period poverty — the lack of access to period products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, hand-washing facilities and waste management due to financial constraints. This has a greater impact on demographics that are already marginalised, especially Indigenous people, with reports of them not attending school for days each month due to menstruation.
In a world where period poverty and stigma runs rampant, it was nice to sit at the fundraiser outside PNR with a sausage and beer, listening to people from all walks of life, menstruators or not, talk freely and openly about periods, period products and reproductive health in an environment that was ready, willing and able to support people who menstruate.
And as the University is expected to be in a $220 million surplus this year, the goal of having free and accessible period products across all campus bathrooms does not seem out of reach.