Women missing school and work due to period poverty is “a government responsibility”.

Period poverty has been an issue that Northern Ireland along with the rest of the world has struggled to remedy. Period poverty affects those who have no access to or are unable to afford sanitary products during their menstruation cycle, which can put women and those who have periods in a difficult situation, either having to take days off from work or school or being forced to persevere and “free bleed”. This dilemma is due to the effect on personal hygiene and comfortability that period poverty causes.

Homeless Period NI, a charity which has been helping homeless women have access to sanitary products during their menstruation cycle since 2016, have stated that “during the previous school-based period schemes 53% of students had to ask a teacher to gain access to the free products, and a staggering 87% of students said it negatively impacted their learning and school experience.” As well as this, 74% of girls in school felt it was necessary to remain at home, rather than attend school and run the risk of not having access to products.

 Sarah, a Belfast Met student, describes “I have had to make a decision between going to school and risking the same pad all day, or staying in my house, and missing a whole school days’ worth of teaching. To avoid embarrassment, I have stayed at home, no matter the impact on my grades at the end of the year. Sometimes I have no choice most of the time and people aren’t as understanding as they let on they are. You feel slightly judged when you’re emailing into work or school, like they aren’t taking you seriously. I notice myself making vague statements like “I woke up feeling off” as well instead of telling the truth. It’s the taboo of it as well.”

A spokesperson from Homeless Period Belfast explained “we have lobbied and campaigned to the NI government for 3 years and in March our campaign and bill for free period products in all public buildings passed!” They explained that previous schemes over the last 5 years “have not be satisfactory. The women of Northern Ireland deserve a more robust, long-lasting scheme to access period products.” Peter Weir had previously attempted to create a free period product scheme for students in secondary education, but the Homeless Period Belfast statistics shows that the previous scheme had its flaws and was not built to be long-lasting or sustainable.

 Allison, an Ulster University student described how “for years myself and those close to me have been significantly let down by promises of better access to things like this, especially when you think of how easy it is to get necessities like condoms, which is a typically male issue. Its definitely frustrating to see the half measures that the executive have taken, and how sure they are that they are meeting our needs. It’s disappointing.”

 Companies, like Lidl NI, have set up their own schemes offering vouchers for women to have a box of sanitary towels or tampons per month. Lidl NI became the first retailer in NI to offer such a service of free period products in August of 2021. In partnership with Homeless Period, Lidl set up a registration service, that allows those who have a menstruation cycle to redeem an automatic monthly coupon for a box of tampons or sanitary pads that can be redeemed in store. Dylan, a barista from Belfast, believes “it shouldn’t be private companies leading the path for things like this. It starts at the top and trickles down. Obviously, Lidl are doing a great job, but it’s a drop in the ocean to the amount of people NI struggling to access products. The way I see it, it’s the governments’ responsibility.”

There has been more and more demand in Northern Ireland, as the only remaining part of the UK without such a scheme in place. SDLP MLA Pat Catney brought the issue of period poverty to the assembly citing that “free access to period products is a legal right that should be upheld by Northern Ireland”. Catney’s sentiment was supported, and the legislation has passed to make period products free in all schools, colleges, and public buildings in NI. The bill will now go to Royal Ascent and schemes should be rolling out in the new year.

If you or anyone you know is currently struggling with homelessness and period poverty, download the Lidl Plus app onto a smart phone to register for your monthly coupon or attend your local Simon Community location to receive your free box monthly. Alternatively, reach out to the donation centres of Homeless Period to receive a care package from them. To become a volunteer contact Homeless Period Belfast on Facebook to see how you can get involved in the campaign.

As Homeless Period state, “It doesn’t bare thinking about and that’s the problem.”

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I am a Journalism Masters Student, as well as a volunteer writer and editor for Go Inspire. I am passionate about creating interesting, challenging and important conversations surrounding a multitude of issues and topics.