First published 2 July 2020

Dr Ruth Knight from The Australian Centre for Philanthropy and Non-profit Studies based at QUT Business has prepared a report about the issue in partnership with charity organisation, Share the Dignity.

Dr Knight (pictured below right) said interviews with staff from 12 Queensland schools identified a lack of awareness among students about menstrual management and hygiene.

“Period poverty is a real issue that is under-researched,” Dr Knight said. “We have anecdotal evidence of teachers personally donating products but there is a lack of data about the level of need.

“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.”

The aim of the research was to learn more about how schools could reduce any stigma and shame, and support students to manage their menstrual health so they did not avoid or stay away from school during their period.

The report identified lessening period poverty could lead to positive outcomes including: -

  • reducing school absenteeism
  • reducing shame and embarrassment associated with menstruation
  • improving physical, emotional and mental health.

Dr Knight said a commitment made in 2019 by the Victorian Government to provide free pads and tampons in primary, secondary and specialist schools upon request was encouraging, however, urged other states and territories to allow universal access to free sanitary products.

Share the Dignity has provided free sanitary products to thousands of female students with Dignity Vending Machines installed in Australian high schools.

The charity’s founder Rochelle Courtenay, who is a strong advocate for social justice, said working in collaboration with schools will help bring a cultural shift as schools played an important role in promoting menstrual health.

The charity’s initiatives manager, Claudette Laidlaw, meets with education departments and schools on how best to locate the vending machines and educate staff and students.

“We are being approached directly by schools and in one instance we have had the students themselves want a say on placing a vending machine at their school in New South Wales which shows progress is being made,” Ms Laidlaw said.

The QUT report has recommended strategies to address period poverty included effective menstrual education, pain and health management, accessible period products and provision of practical resources such as toilets, soap, and bins so girls can manage menstruation without embarrassment.  

The report’s recommendations are in line with New Zealand’s policy to trial a project offering free sanitary products to all schoolgirls and the Scottish Parliament’s backing of a proposal to provide free products in schools.



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