It’s time to tackle period poverty head on

TCDSU Welfare and Equality Officer Aoife Bennett discusses the barriers in place to period dignity at Trinity.

On Tuesday 7th of November, I brought a proposal to the Student Life Committee urging College to tackle period poverty on campus by providing students and staff with free period products in college bathrooms. The proposal was backed by the Student Life Committee with a commitment to take this further. However, there is a lot more work to be done. The policy in principle is supported, but now work must be done to get it up and running.The support from the Student Life Committee has opened up conversations with College Officers on other ways the College can work with the Union to support students who menstruate while the free period products initiative is set up.

The damaging impact of period poverty is often underestimated in society because menstruation has been a taboo subject for years. As menstruators were shamed into silence about the impact of their periods, period poverty was equally an issue that was not addressed. It is crucial, in the fight for equality, that we continue to have open conversations like these about menstruation, and the impact it can have on a person’s daily life.

Free period products don’t just aid period poverty. It also gives menstruators  more dignity. Periods can be unpredictable and often leave people feeling a bit out of control. While you might not have experienced period poverty before, I could guess most people who menstruate have went to a public bathroom and discovered their period has caught them off guard. What do you do then? Well, you are presented with a myriad of uncomfortable options. You could fashion a pad with some toilet roll while you go on the hunt for a more appropriate solution. You could abandon your plans for the rest of the day and head home. Or you could have a little cry that your favourite pants are ruined. What you can’t do, however, is talk about it.

In a 2018 International survey, 50% of girls aged 12-19 in Ireland reported occasional experience of period poverty. Given the worsening  housing and cost-of-living crises in the five years since this survey, we can only assume that this percentage has increased. Experiencing period poverty can have serious knock-on effects for students, such as missing classes and being excluded from college life. Period poverty can also negatively impact students’ health due to the use of unsuitable period products, as well as social isolation. This creates socio-economic and gender inequality throughout the college community, and desperately needs to be addressed. It is within College’s control to tackle this issue, as they have a duty of care to their staff and students.

The fight for free period products in Trinity is one that has gone on for years. Departments, societies and individual students have been doing their bit to provide free period products on campus wherever they can. My predecessor as Welfare and Equality Officer, Chloe Staunton, was able to secure €7,000 to run a pilot scheme for free period products across various locations. With the help of the housekeeping department, ten dispensers were stocked across campus. In just over one month, the entire stock was completely depleted, with €3,500 worth of period products lasting just 18 days.

Last year’s pilot scheme showed us how logistically achievable the implementation of free period products on campus can be, whilst also highlighting the significant demand for such a service across campus. Unfortunately, due to economic restraints the Union does not have the funding required to sustain this type of initiative. This initiative, therefore, needs to be streamlined and supported on an institutional level, which is why we are putting pressure on College to step up and tackle period dignity head-on. By doing so, it can directly tackle stigma and shame around periods for its students and staff, thus making our college a more inclusive space.

It is worth noting that other Universities across the country, including UCD, DCU, University of Galway and University Limerick, all provide their students with free period products funded by their institution. In doing this, these colleges make education more accessible for their students and help to tackle socio-economic and gender inequality. It is time for Trinity to follow suit. Our students and staff are facing a nationwide cost-of-living and housing crisis. Many people at Trinity are struggling to pay their rent, afford food and sustain themselves in Dublin. The quality of learning and teaching are affected by menstruation, so it is essential for all menstruators to have access to period products. For College to implement a free period scheme would be a crucial step in supporting our community. Now, more so than ever, College needs to take action.

Whilst ultimately the responsibility to provide University students with free period products should fall to the Irish Government, who have failed to follow through with their promise to implement Free Period Products in Higher Education Institutions, for now it is up to college to bridge the gap and support its staff and students.