Period poverty in Australia impacts women and girls across the nation and has only worsened in the days since the coronavirus swept the globe. However, Australian authorities have noted this issue, and have taken action to alleviate some of the hardship for women in need.
Period Poverty for Young Girls
Women’s Agenda Australia, a small team composed of reputable, all-female journalists reporting on gender equality issues in their country, defines period poverty as “the inability to purchase sanitary products [that] presents a significant obstacle to health, comfort, and engagement with school and community activities.” The publication released an article regarding period poverty’s effect on young girls; the women they feature have to deal without necessary sanitary products, all while trying to navigate the high school experience, which is difficult in its own right no matter the resources a student may have.
Though research about period poverty in these scenarios is rather limited in terms of the scale of the problem in educational institutions, administrators can vouch for the fact that poor menstrual management impacts the emotional and physical wellbeing of adolescents, thereby affecting attendance. Dr. Ruth Knight from The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Nonprofit Studies expands on this issue, sharing that she has “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.”
The Impact of the Coronavirus
The implications of COVID-19 worsened period poverty all across the globe, and Australia is not exempt from repercussions. As the nation put stay-at-home orders in place, components of the production process of feminine hygiene products ended up shut down due to the need to manufacture other sanitary products directly linked to slowing the spread of the virus. For example, the program manager of Water, Sanitation and Hygiene Initiatives, or WASH, Australia, described how one of its partners, Plan International, an independent development and humanitarian organization working for children’s and women’s rights, experienced supply chain disruption reducing its ability to produce pads.
Though precautions against COVID-19 are of utmost importance, menstrual hygiene concerns persist and even worsen due to this newfound neglect. Plan International compiled a report titled “Periods in a Pandemic” to detail this issue and used evidence from directly impacted Australian civilians to illustrate their cause. One of the document’s quotations from a woman they identify as a “young Australian” reads, “Due to bulk buying it has been extremely hard to find any products at all, and when you do find them, they are quite expensive.”
Australian authorities have not completely turned a blind eye to period poverty. As of January 2019, the list of Goods and Services Tax (GST) exempt products now includes tampons. The campaign to “axe the tax,” as original advocates for the movement touted, was made a reality through a unanimously approved deal amongst state and territory treasurers in Melbourne along with Federal Official Josh Frydenberg back in 2018. This game-changing decision occurred, despite the $30 million Australia lost in tax revenue as a repercussion. The unanimity of the push for the removal of the tax demonstrates that officials recognize the issue, even though it may not be on the radars of Australians at the local level (such as those of the people that could play a hand in stopping period poverty in schools).
Young girls face period poverty in Australia every day and often miss out on pieces of their education as a result. Though little research has occurred on period poverty in this sector of the nation’s population, adolescents are monitored in tandem with their access to schooling, through attendance, academic performance, and the like. Therefore, though the hardship that these young women face appears to be the worst part of the problem, women beyond school age likely face the same challenges, even though unmonitored. COVID-19 only worsened the issue, as priority went to sanitary products pertaining to the virus over those created for menstruation. Period poverty in Australia is on the radar of the nation’s authorities, however, as proven by the country’s abolition of the tax on tampons in 2019.
– Ava Roberts