Dáil debates

Wednesday, 13 March 2019

5:10 pm

Photo of Róisín ShortallRóisín Shortall (Dublin North West, Social Democrats)

I am very happy to pledge the full support of the Social Democrats for this motion and we were very pleased to sign it. It is a significant development and initiative by the women's caucus, the establishment of which has been positive. I commend Deputies Catherine Martin and Corcoran Kennedy who led the establishment of the caucus and this particular initiative. All credit to them for doing that.

This initiative is really important because it tackles both the taboo of periods and the issue of poverty. There are those in Government and elsewhere who would deny that there is a level of poverty which results in a significant number of Irish girls and women finding it difficult to afford basic sanitary items they desperately need on a monthly basis for many years of their lives. Unfortunately we are at that point in Irish society where significant numbers of people are living on the bread line and basic items, such as sanitary products, are a struggle for them to afford and they have to make a choice between buying those products and buying other essentials. We are in that situation now for a significant number of women and families in this country.

This is one of the last few taboo subjects and it is a healthy sign that we are having a mature debate on the issue of periods and how they pose challenges for girls and women in our society. It is important that we are addressing this issue now. I know the caucus looked at a number of particular issues that affect girls and women and identified this issue as something that would help to break that taboo but it is also a doable initiative. That is the whole point about it. This will not change the world or cost a fortune. This is recognising a basic human need for half of the population and addressing it in a practical way. I hope the Government supports this wholeheartedly and provides the necessary funding required.

Deputy Harty spoke about the issue of taboo and those of us who have been around for a while remember the antediluvian attitude and practice within the Catholic Church of the churching of women. Over the years, that has led to a situation where, as was quoted, a significant number of teenage girls, 60%, still feel that sense of shame and embarrassment about having periods. That does not come out of nowhere. It is the result of a long cultural impact. Those attitudes are clearly extremely discriminatory and derogatory and need to be eliminated as a matter of urgency. The way to do that is through education. We need modern sexual health and reproduction education courses in schools and we do not have them. We need to ensure our male and female young people are taught openly about their reproductive systems, having and giving consent, enjoying sexual pleasure and human nature around sexual activity and the reproductive system, rather than the purely biological perspective which is very often the only kind of sex education children receive in school. Education should be about creating a sense of body positivity for young men and women and, unfortunately, we do not have that. There is a long way to go.

I very much commend those involved in this initiative. It is essential that we move forward in doing this and make free sanitary products available on a much more widespread basis and we should take the lead of Dublin City Council. Much more still needs to be done, especially in our schools and public buildings. Well done to everybody involved in this initiative.

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