Dáil debates

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

4:20 pm

Photo of Denise MitchellDenise Mitchell (Dublin Bay North, Sinn Fein)

I welcome this motion and, in particular, recent moves by Dublin City Council and South Dublin County Council to roll out free sanitary products in their buildings. I wish to highlight the issue of period poverty among those in direct provision centres. In November, the Minister for Justice and Equality told my colleague, Deputy Adams, in a response to a parliamentary question that the independent living model would be rolled out across direct provision centres. That model is a points-based system on access to toiletries and other products that would be based on family composition and need. The Minister stated that supplies of women's sanitary products would be made available as required for those centres that did not yet have this model and that the cost would be borne by the Department. As far as know, that has still not happened. There are women who receive only €38.30 a week. Obviously, they are not in a position to work, so they have to use up a significant chunk of that weekly allowance on sanitary products. That is wrong so I welcome the call in this motion for these products be made free in direct provision centres. I urge the Minister to ensure that this is rolled out immediately.

It is a reality that women who are experiencing homelessness are also highly likely to experience period poverty. Some great work is being done by the Homeless Period Ireland campaign to ensure that sanitary products are available across many homeless services. Steps are also being taken by local councils - and via this motion - to ensure that those experiencing homelessness will have access to these essential products. In the North, women's sanitary products are still taxed. This is what is referred to as the tampon tax. That tax is set by London and Sinn Féin has repeatedly called for it to be scrapped. This campaign is in progress in the North. Derry City and Strabane District Council has also moved to make sanitary products available free of charge in council-run community and sporting facilities.

I also welcome the elements of the motion that call for a focus on education. I acknowledge and commend the call in the motion for information on periods to be integrated into education and to ensure that both boys and girls are educated on this issue. In the Plan International survey, it is reported that almost 60% of young women stated that they do not find classes at school on periods helpful. This is a really high figure. It is extremely surprising that 60% of young women do not find the classes helpful. The survey also indicates that six out of ten young women often report feeling shame and embarrassment about their periods. The stigma in respect of this topic needs to be done away with. It is incredible that in 2019 there is still a taboo about discussing an issue like women's periods.

I want to broaden this discussion out because there is a much larger problem here in terms of poverty faced by women. There are women on low wages, particularly in professions such as childcare in which the majority of staff are female. The report by the Society of Saint Vincent de Paul earlier this month indicates that one in five lone parents - again, mainly women - is living below the poverty line. In February, I visited a local food bank run by Crosscare. I am sure everybody in the House will agree that this organisation does brilliant work. One of the volunteers informed me that demand for basic essentials has increased in recent months. So despite economic growth, it is clear that many in our communities are still struggling.

I welcome the motion. It is a small step in the right direction but the reality is that period poverty exists because poverty exists. We will not be able to deal with this issue in isolation. We need to tackle the root causes of poverty in society, namely, low wages, lack of childcare, lack of social supports for lone parents and lack of affordable housing. It is through tackling those root causes that issues such as this will be tackled as well.

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