Dáil debates

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

4:30 pm

Photo of Bríd SmithBríd Smith (Dublin South Central, People Before Profit Alliance)

I am sharing with Deputy Coppinger.

I put my name to this cross-party motion and was happy to do so because period poverty is a very real issue for women struggling to get by, particularly women living in homelessness or direct provision. However, a week ago, when the Society of St. Vincent de Paul report on poverty rates among lone parents came out, I thought about the motion with a certain degree of disgust and anger because I recognised that I had co-signed a motion with many Deputies who have been party to imposing austerity measures of the severest kind on lone parents over the terms of the past two Governments.

I will highlight one thing that caught my eye because I do not think many people will be aware of these statistics. This motion promotes "healthy and environmentally-friendly sanitary products". While sanitary products have improved greatly since I was a young one, they use much more plastic. Statistics show that the average menstruator uses more than 11,000 disposal products over a lifetime. This figure is based on 37.5 years of menstruation, using 22 items per cycle and 13 cycles per year. A study conducted in Britain on the number of pieces of menstrual waste found on beaches showed that, on average, 4.8 items of menstrual waste are found on every 100 m of beach. This is another reason to argue the necessity to promote recyclable and eco-friendly products. There are many alternatives. Younger women tell me that menstrual cups are a great alternative to pads and tampons. A small cup made of medical-grade silicon, folded and inserted into the body, sits at the base of the cervix collecting menstrual fluid. It is reusable, eco-friendly, comfortable and leak-free. A single cup can be used for up to 15 years.

My main focus is on poverty, in particular the poverty inflicted on those on low pay and in precarious jobs. Period poverty is suffered by workers who have no security and may have heavy periods every month. We do not have figures for Ireland, but British statistics suggest that as many as one in five women miss work on at least one day per month because of painful periods. If we were to apply those statistics proportionately to Ireland, it would mean women take 250,000 sick days each year because of period pain. For professional women, it may be just a case of staying at home from work on the day their period is heaviest and most painful. For those at the bottom of the labour market, however, it is a very different story. Having a sick day every month could well result in someone losing a job. The number and length of toilet breaks in many jobs, such as shops and factories, are being monitored all of the time.

Period poverty in work can be worse for those on precarious contracts, many of whom suffer real period poverty. Their wages will be significantly reduced if they have to skip work for a day or part of a day because of severe pain or heavy bleeding. In some Asian countries, which are not usually perceived to be the most progressive, labour laws allow for one to three menstrual leave days each year as a right. As well as campaigning on these issues, we need to fight for industrial relations laws that would allow days taken off work for periods to be recognised and paid by all employers, not only some of them. This is clearly a trade union issue on which we should encourage people to engage.

A study on lone parents published last week by the Society of St. Vincent de Paul revealed the shocking statistic that poverty among lone parents doubled between 2012 and 2017. Whereas in 2012, before the cuts, one in 11 households headed by lone parents was living in poverty, that figure now stands at one in five households. That is a direct result of the austerity measures introduced by the former Minister for Social Protection, Deputy Joan Burton, and perpetuated by the current Minister for Employment Affairs and Social Protection and those who went before her. That harshest measures imposed by female and male Deputies, particularly on women, during times of austerity have the effect of increasing poverty. It is a recognised fact that women bear a greater burden than any other sector of society. When the then Minister for Finance stated he would first pick the low-hanging fruit, he was referring to women in precarious jobs, lone parents, women in homelessness, etc.

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