Period Poverty is the lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education and inadequate toilet facilities. It is also the stigma and feelings of shame and embarrassment of a normal bodily function, and subsequent impacts on mental health.
In 2022 students in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle advocated for female hygiene products to be made available in school toilets to provide access, equity and dignity to students who menstruate. A Diocese-wide working group was formed to investigate the impact of period poverty in our schools and lead the way in addressing the issues by exploring the feasibility of:
- Installing free period products in dispensing machines in our schools, aligned with the placement of the sanitary bins.
- Developing an awareness education program for schools in conjunction with the syllabus.
- Developing a policy that will help reinforce the promotion of dignity, gender equality and reproductive health.
The working group soon developed an initiative called Period Positivity. The initiative is about making periods normal. From free period care products to more informative discussions, the initiative aims to promote greater accessibility, equity and dignity for all.
In Term 4, 2022 a pilot program was conducted at St Paul’s Catholic College Booragul, trialling the installation of sanitary dispensing machines with the provision of free sanitary products at the school. The trial was accompanied by a survey for students to examine the feasibility of a further product roll-out in our Catholic Schools.
The trial was very successful – with strong survey results in addition to positive student engagement and feedback.
- 49% of students used at least one of the free products during the trial.
- 82% of students were ‘happy’ with the free products being available, with 55% being extremely happy.
- Written responses were overwhelmingly positive with themes such as happiness, safe, comfortable, supported, relaxed, relief and respected mentioned.
Due to the success of the trial, dispensers are being rolled out across all Secondary Schools in the Catholic Diocese of Maitland-Newcastle from Term 3, 2023.
- Sanitary products have been made available to students for free, via dispensers in the toilet blocks.
- If students find themselves needing pads or tampons, they will be available from the dispensers.
- Students will still be able to use their own products, but there will be the option to use the free products provided in the female toilets for those who need them.
The product roll-out is complemented by an educational awareness program that has been deployed to students. Professional Learning resources will enable teachers to be competent and confident to deliver the educational materials such as Menstrual health; information about periods and anatomy, dispelling myths, products, accessibility, gender equity and promoting dignity.