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Pat Catney MLA (SDLP) is proposing the introduction of a Bill to ensure free access to sanitary products, including in schools, colleges and universities.
 
In Northern Ireland, period poverty continues to be a very real issue. A period is something that almost every woman and girl of reproductive age has every month. It is a natural bodily function of women and girls, yet it continues to be a taboo subject, generally discussed in hushed voices or behind closed doors, if even at all. 

Access to sanitary products to absorb the flow of menstrual blood is essential for health, hygiene and active participation in everyday life. It is shameful that menstrual healthcare and hygiene is not embedded in our health and education systems. Despite the necessity of sanitary products in maintaining the health and wellbeing of women and girls, their accessibility and affordability are variable, and menstruation can create financial and practical challenges.

During different stages of their life, women and girls may find it difficult to afford or access sanitary products for many reasons. They may have no money or income of their own, and even if they do, sanitary products may still be inaccessible, particularly in an educational setting. 

Similarly, low wages can make it challenging to manage menstruation. Poverty ultimately leads to period poverty, and no one should be forced to decide between feeding their family or managing their menstrual health and hygiene. Menstrual care can also be made difficult by other circumstances such as homelessness, abusive relationships and health conditions such as endometriosis (affecting 1 in 10 women) which can make periods extremely heavy and painful and makes menstruation a generally problematic experience.

However, we can stop period poverty in Northern Ireland. Over the preceding two years, the Scottish, English and Welsh governments have all started to address period poverty by introducing free access to sanitary products in educational settings. Scotland has also recently passed a Period Products (Free Provision) Bill, which will enshrine free access to sanitary products into law.

I believe that Northern Ireland must join the rest of the United Kingdom in tackling period poverty. This is why I intend to introduce a legislative duty on Ministers in Northern Ireland to develop a universal system to provide access, free of charge, to sanitary products for those who need them. My proposal will also place a statutory duty on schools, colleges and universities to provide sanitary products on their campuses for students.

In doing so, Northern Ireland can end the silence and stigma that surrounds menstruation and will go some way in removing gendered barriers. This is a big step towards the creation of a fairer and more equal society.

Our full consultation document can be accessed at:
http://sdlp.ie/site/assets/files/43042/period_poverty_consultation_document_1.pdf