State schools

Free menstrual products in public schools in Queensland to improve access and reduce stigma

Aunt Flo, painters and decorators, strawberry week.

These are all devious and “less embarrassing” terms for something experienced by about half the population.

Periods have long been talked about in whispers, with teenage girls going to great lengths to conceal sanitary products on their way to the toilet.

For some women and girls, having their period is not just an inconvenience, it can prevent them from going to school or playing sports.

Period poverty is not limited to less developed countries – it is also felt here in Australia, with the cost of pads and tampons making it an unaffordable ‘luxury’ item.

But it is hoped that an initiative rolled out in state schools in Queensland will remove that barrier and reduce the stigma.

The Queensland government is spending $13.3 million on vending machines that will supply free period goods to public schools; the funding will also be used for the recurrent education of students.

A “luxury” item

Yumi Stynes, co-author of the book Welcome to Your Period, has long been an advocate for destigmatizing the issues facing women.

Yumi Stynes ​​and Melissa Kang’s book helps girls better understand menstruation.(ABC RN: Olivia Willis)

She said the vending machine announcement almost brought her to tears.

“When you hear the term period poverty, we think of women who literally have to stay home on the days they bleed because they have no way to manage their period,” Ms Stynes ​​said.

“Here in Australia it also affects people and not having a shortage around period products is profound, it gives access to a lot of children, [so they can] continue to attend school.

Ms Stynes ​​said the availability of free products at school would help young girls who were still learning to know their bodies and manage their periods.

“I was this 13-year-old kid who’s not used to having her period and a lot of times you show up to school without a single period article,” she said.

A white and pink vending machine that provides free vintage products.
Over 200 schools applied to participate in a vending machine trial in 2020.(Provided: Bowen State High School)

“So for schools to provide these things, I swear on my life that so many kids will come out of the jam.

‘Let’s not water it down’

As part of the research for this article, the ABC asked young teens what they thought of the ad and whether it would make a difference in their lives.

Despite trying several different groups, methods and tactics, the result was the same: “no way, it’s too embarrassing” [to answer].

But there were also questions about why it’s limited to public schools.

A lady with blonde hair and a colorful shirt smiling and holding vintage products.
Fallon Drewett says vending machines will bring conversations about menstruation out of the shadows.(ABC Tropical North: Melissa Maddison)

Period shaming is something women’s advocate Fallon Drewett hopes is a thing of the past.

“We are talking about conversations about gender equality and we need men and young boys to understand it [menstruation] is a natural part of a woman’s life,” she said.

“To be comfortable enough to be that support person for your daughter, wife or partner and to go to the stores to buy the products they need.

Ms Drewett said with shame comes fear, which also needs to be addressed.

“It’s quite traumatic when you have your first period, let’s not sugarcoat that, it’s complete.

Yumi Stynes ​​said she felt attitudes were changing…slowly.

“The idea that you have to hide the fact that you’re even on your period, let alone… your period right now, is diminishing,” she said.

intel for boys

Yumi Stynes ​​and Fallon Drewett said vending machines could be a catalyst for involving dads and male role models in the period conversation.

“It’s definitely a thing where, let’s say a nine-year-old boy will learn the rules and try to shame people around him, and say, ‘Ew, you’re bleeding, that’s disgusting,'” Ms. Stynes.

“It starts at home. If you have a son, it’s about making them realize that it’s a natural part of a woman’s life,” Ms Drewett said.

“We should celebrate it a bit more.”

The cover of a book titled Welcome to Your Period which has a red background and white writing
This guide aims to help girls, but also brothers and fathers, to understand the rules.(ABC Tropical North: Melissa Maddison)

Yumi Stynes ​​said her research and work has shown that fathers are open to conversations about menstruation, but sometimes need help.

“If you’re a single dad, maybe set a reminder to make sure you have enough menstrual products in the bathroom,” she said.

“Or maybe your kid could text you and say, ‘Dad, this is my favorite product I’m using right now.'”

With access to period products now vastly improved, Ms Stynes ​​said it was time to make it a national conversation.

“Wouldn’t it be amazing if it was national and Australia was a leader in this field that takes women’s health seriously?” she says.

“The more everyone has access, the better for so many generations of people.”

Editor’s note 06/13/2022: This story has been edited to remove a reference to the GST on sanitary products. GST was removed on feminine hygiene products in 2019.