Half of the Irish teenage girl population have difficulty affording sanitary items and 61 percent are embarrassed by their periods.
Plan International Ireland surveyed girls aged between 12-19 for a recent study. Some of the girls said that their school did not teach them anything about periods at all and 59 percent of the girls surveyed said they felt the lessons they were given were not helpful.
Remi (16) from Donegal says she feels let down by the education system.
“Our secondary school hasn’t talked to us about it at all, not one class on periods.”
Remi says other people try and shut down talk of periods if she brings it up.
“People try and make you feel embarrassed about talking about it, especially boys they say ‘don’t talk about that’ when we say anything about our periods and they try and make you feel bad about being angry”.
Stacey (17) said that boys often use periods as a way to make girls feel bad about expressing anger.
“If I’m moody, my boyfriend might say ‘are you on your period or something?’ He says as a ‘joke’ but you know he’s not really joking.”
Some of the girls I spoke to said that they didn’t know anyone experiencing period poverty but that they noticed it was the same girls asking around for a pad or tampon.
Stacey said she has experienced period poverty herself and has had to ask friends for sanitary products.
“Coming from a single parent background it can be hard when you’re not earning other money yourself and you’re relying on money from your Mam. There are things you want to spend money on but you have to save for pads and tampons, they should be free I think, or at least much cheaper.”
Period poverty is not just being experienced by girls, however. Women in abusive relationships are often suffering from financial abuse and have their purchases rigorously policed. Janine* says when she was in an abusive relationship, her partner would not allow her enough money for pads and she would have to use toilet paper.
“I didn’t want to leave the house, especially on my period as I had to use toilet paper as a substitute and feared leakages. When I was lucky enough to get pads it was usually from the generosity of my mum or sisters. Years later after I left that relationship, I volunteered in a domestic violence unit and I found that my story was not a unique one.”
Women living in Direct Provision receive €21.60 a week to live on out of which they must pay for sanitary products. Women do not receive more money than men to allow for the extra expense. Mavis is living in Direct Provision and she says that many women in similar centres struggle to pay for pads and tampons.
“It’s a challenge, you have to neglect other needs as you know you will need to use money for that every month.”
In recent months The Homeless Period, a charity set up to provide women in crisis with sanitary products has been supplying women in Dublin Direct Provision centres with provisions. Mavis says that the charity has taken the financial stress out of menstruation.
“Before I met Claire from The Homeless Period it was a challenge, but she has helped us so much.”
Lone parents relying on social welfare are also at risk of period poverty. Emma is a lone parent of three small children. Her only income is Lone Parent’s Payment and she says she often has to forgo essentials such as deodorant and sanitary items as she cannot afford them.
“I’ll never forget the week when three of them were all down with sickness, I had to get medication that wasn’t on my medical card which cost me an arm and a leg.
“On top of the script, I then had to pay for a taxi home as well as one into the doctor, it is a 20 minute walk and I felt it was unfair for the older two to walk with 39 degree temps.
“Tampons and deodorant were the least of my worries that week, but I did go without. I felt like a charity case begging from St Vincent de Paul that week to put food on the table.”
Emma says she asks friends for sanitary products but feels embarrassed having to ask other people for essential items.
“Why can’t they be free, like contraception clinics with free contraception?”
Secondary school student Remi agrees:
“It’s not our choice to get periods so I don’t see why we should have to pay for pads and tampons, they should be free.”