That Seanad Éireann:
— the average woman, or anyone who experiences periods, will have 507 periods from age 12 to 51, for roughly 39 years of her life;
— in Ireland, sanitary products can cost from €2 to €6 per pack, with the average pack containing 10 to 15 pads or tampons, and that a 12 pack of pain relief tablets costs between €6 and €10;
— most women and girls will have 13 periods a year, with some using up to 22 tampons and/or towels per cycle leading to an estimated annual cost of €208 for sanitary products and pain relief, costing €8,100 over a lifetime;
— access to affordable sanitary products and menstrual education should be viewed in a human rights context as according to the World Health Organization's constitution '… the highest attainable standard of health as a fundamental right of every human being';
— the United Nations (UN) Human Rights Council Resolution 33/10 on 29 September, 2016 states that lack of menstrual health management and stigma associated with menstruation both have a negative impact on gender equality and women's and girls' enjoyment of human rights, including the right to education and the right to health;
— the UN Committee on Rights of the Child General Comment No. 20 (2016) on implementation of the rights of the child during adolescence has stated that 'All adolescents should have access to free, confidential, adolescent-responsive and non-discriminatory sexual and reproductive health services, information and education…[including on] menstrual hygiene';
— according to a survey of more than 1,100 young girls and women aged between 12 and 19 years by Plan International Ireland nearly 50 per cent of Irish teenage girls find it difficult to afford sanitary products;
— some 109 of the young women who participated in the survey said they were forced to use a 'less suitable sanitary product' because of the high monthly cost involved;
— nearly 60 per cent of, or one in two, young women and girls said school does not inform them adequately about periods;
— six out of ten young women reported feeling shame and embarrassment about their period, 61 per cent miss school on their period and more than 80 per cent said they did not feel comfortable talking about their periods with their father or a teacher; and
— nearly 70 per cent of young women take some form of pain relief during menstruation;
— tampons and sanitary towels are not subject to Value Added Tax (VAT) in Ireland which has a zero rate treatment on women's sanitary products, but new period products that may better suit some women, girls and the environment, are still taxed at the highest rate of tax at 23%;
— due to the high cost of these products, women and girls in period poverty are resorting to unsuitable options such as newspaper, toilet paper or unwashed clothing;
— girls and young women who suffer shame and embarrassment surrounding their period are more likely to use unsuitable options rather than approach family members or their teacher;
— in September 2018, Dublin City Council announced it will provide free sanitary products in its buildings such as community centres, swimming pools and libraries;
— the advances being made in other countries such as the success of a six month pilot in Aberdeen to provide free products in all schools funded by the Scottish Government; and
— the work of organisations such as Plan International Ireland and The Homeless Period to alleviate the stress and financial burden placed on women and girls due to period poverty;
and calls on the Government to:
— provide a range of free, adequate, safe and suitable sanitary products and comprehensive, objective menstrual education information distributed through all public buildings, including schools, universities, direct provision centres, refuges, homeless services, Garda stations, hospitals, maternity hospitals, prisons, detention centres and rehabilitation centres so as to tackle period poverty and de-stigmatise and normalise menstruation;
— ensure all menstrual products available in Ireland are safe, through regulation and quality checks;
— ensure young women, girls and people of other genders can learn about their periods and menstrual hygiene in a normalising and safe environment, including online by providing a State-run website with objective information, and ensure girls, boys and people of other genders have access to education about menstruation integrated into the school curriculum;
— ensure improved access to hygienic facilities and sanitary products that are affordable and meet individual needs;
— work with other countries across the European Union to remove VAT on all sanitary products, including healthy and environmentally-friendly sanitary products such as cups and period-proof underwear; and
— prioritise the issue of menstrual equity for girls and children's rights as central to Irish Aid's work overseas in line with the UN's Sustainable Development Goal 5 on achieving gender equality and empowering all women and girls, and Goal 6 which calls for universal and equitable access to adequate and equitable sanitation and hygiene for all by 2030.
I welcome the Minister of State, Deputy Catherine Byrne, to the House. I welcome to the Visitors Gallery, Deputy Catherine Martin, the chairperson of our Oireachtas women's caucus. I commend Deputy Martin on all her great work in chairing it, bringing all women Members of both Houses together and initiating the debate on period poverty and the wording of this motion. As colleagues will be aware, this motion was already debated in the Dáil, during international women's week, around 8 March. We thought we would introduce it in the Seanad in the same spirit as a cross-party motion proposed by all Members of the Seanad, both women and men. I am delighted that my colleague, Senator Clifford-Lee, will be seconding the motion but it is an all-party motion supported by everyone here.
In the short time in which the women's caucus has been in place, it has already had a very powerful voice on women's issues and policy issues generally. For example, we held a very successful international conference of women's caucuses in Dublin Castle last September, bringing in women parliamentarians from all across the world, from developing and developed countries alike. It was really interesting for all who took part to share our common experience as women in Parliaments across the world and to share the experience of almost all of us of being in a minority in our Parliaments. I do not need to tell the Minister of State or anyone else how low the rate of female representation still is in the Dáil and Seanad. It is somewhat better in the Seanad, at 30%, but still very poor. The rate in the Dáil, 22%, is still far too low, despite the great achievement of the quota, which raised the proportion of women's representation from the previous high, which was only 16%, to the current high, 22%, or 35 women out of 158. I hope we will be joined in the Gallery very shortly by a group of young women, future women leaders, and some young men who took part in the Department of Justice and Equality's Politics Needs Women competition to mark the centenary of women's suffrage in Ireland last year. Each of the 16 finalist schools created a short video clip on why politics needs women. The videos were incredibly creative and original. The winning school, from Clane in Kildare, brought the two students involved and their teachers to New York in March to take part in the Commission on the Status of Women events there. It was a great prize. The videos in their entirety are really powerful. I was very proud and privileged to chair the panel judging the videos. I commend all those who made the videos. I was glad we were able to host the 16 school finalists just now in the Department of Justice and Equality, and we will soon be hosting them here in Leinster House. I hope they will come in to watch some of this important debate.
This debate is an initiative of the women's caucus. It is a very important one because it marks the first time that menstruation and periods have been debated in the Oireachtas, in the Seanad today and in the Dáil two weeks ago. Considering how few women representatives we have had over the 101 years for which women have had the right to vote and have been elected to the Dáil, it is not surprising that there has been so little reference to menstruation. It is dreadful that something so integral to women's health and so normal for all women and girls has not been debated or talked about openly. I very much hope today that we will have male colleagues in the Seanad speak, as was the case in the Dáil. My colleagues, Deputies Jan O'Sullivan and Sean Sherlock, both spoke in the Dáil debate. It was important that men and women participated.
There is increased awareness of period poverty, in particular. The motion does not just refer to menstruation or periods for its own sake. It is also a matter of speaking about the real issue, which is not just about women's health but also poverty. The Minister of State will be very aware of this. The increased awareness of period poverty has opened many people's eyes to the issues at play. There have been quite a number of legislative and policy initiatives recently to tackle period poverty, of which this motion is part.
I commend the work of those councillors who have raised this as an issue, in particular my Labour Party colleague, Councillor Rebecca Moynihan, who first brought the issue of period poverty to the fore in Dublin City Council. Last September, councillors in that council supported her motion to provide free sanitary products in Dublin City Council-owned buildings. They will now be available at libraries, sports centres, council offices and community centres. It is a really progressive and practical step. The initiative has been followed by my Labour Party colleague in Dún Laoghaire, Councillor Deirdre Kingston, and in Wexford by Councillor George Lawlor, who have ensured that similar motions were passed in their councils. I commend them on raising awareness of this issue.
We could say the issue of period poverty is having a moment. It is being highlighted, not only in Ireland but also elsewhere. We have seen an initiative online, Pads4Dads, to encourage fathers to speak to their daughters about periods. That is very important in my family. I have two daughters and it is important that they feel comfortable speaking to their father about what is such an important health issue for them.
Just last month, a film about an amazing initiative in India to provide sanitary products to women, "Period. End of Sentence", won the Academy Award for best short documentary at the Oscars. It is a powerful film about the Pad Project, a group of local women in India who have learned how to operate a machine that makes low-cost biodegradable sanitary pads, which they sell to other women at affordable prices, helping to improve feminine hygiene by providing access to basic products but also by supporting and empowering women to tackle and shed the taboo in India surrounding menstruation. This is not a taboo unique to India or any one country.
Clearly, this is something that has to be tackled in every country.
An effective publicity campaign accompanied the film. It focuses on the twin issues of stigma and the real financial burden for women and girls. Indeed, at the briefing in the audiovisual room that Deputy Catherine Martin and the Women's Caucus organised two weeks ago, all of us who were present heard powerful and moving testimony about the real impacts of period poverty on women and girls in developing countries many of whom have to miss a great deal of school because they have no access to sanitary products that would enable them to attend. We have seen other initiatives to tackle period poverty. Ms Aditi Gupta, a young entrepreneur in India, seeks to explain menstruation through a comic book she has produced, called Menstrupedia, which has already reached 150,000 girls in her country as an educational tool aimed at breaking down the stigma of talking about periods.
Plan International Ireland, which was represented at the briefing in the audiovisual room, has termed the "toxic trio" of period poverty as: first, the stigma and taboo of not being able to speak openly about menstruation; second, insufficient education about periods and menstruation, not only for girls in schools but also boys who also, of course, need to know about female health; and, third, the cost and lack of affordability of sanitary wear - basic hygiene products. We know, as I have said, from the work of Plan International Ireland and other organisations, that there are millions of women and girls across the globe who cannot afford period protection. We need to tackle that, and that is part of the text of the motion. In addition, we need to make an effort to rethink the education we provide about menstruation and to shake off, as I have said, the stigma and taboo bound up with menstruation.
This new movement, this new political impetus around period poverty, seeks to address not only the financial and practical barriers to accessing adequate sanitary protection but also attitudinal and cultural problems. I refer to attitudes which continue to suggest that women should whisper, speak among themselves about, use euphemisms with which we are all familiar, such referring to one's "time of the month" , hide tampons up their sleeves, etc. There is an ongoing issue in the context of stigma and shame and this must be dealt with in conjunction with tackling the financial barriers.
While it is important we focus on the attitudes and culture, the financial barriers are very real. Last May, the UNFPA, the family planning association of the United Nations, published a comprehensive review of available evidence on menstrual health management in east and southern Africa which powerfully underscored the ways in which period shame and misinformation had undermined the well-being of women and girls, making them vulnerable to gender discrimination, child marriage and early marriage, exclusion, violence, poverty and untreated health problems. As already stated, the link between menstruation and lost time in school is well document, as are the links between menstruation and lost wages. Women across the globe experience limited access to sanitation facilities in their work places and education facilities. The UNFPA reported highlighted important initiatives taken by countries such as Kenya, where schools distributed sanitary pads to tackle girls' absenteeism. The UNFPA has been supporting these and similar initiatives around the world seeking to ensure that girls need not miss school due to the lack of availability of adequate sanitary pads and sanitary facilities.
I note the impact that lack of access to menstrual health has on the achievement of the UN sustainable development goals, particularly the access to sanitation facilities in goal 6 and, of course, the very important achievement of gender equality listed in goal 5 of the UN sustainable development goals.
We are joined by some of the finalists in the Politics Needs Women competition that I mentioned earlier. I welcome them all from the different schools. As I said, there were 16 schools in the final. Already today, students from 13 of them have visited the Department of Justice and Equality and Leinster House in order to witness the workings of the Dáil and Seanad and, of course, to hear us debate. It is timely that we are debating an issue of women's health such as this motion on period poverty when we are joined by so many powerful young voices who represent, as I have stated, the future of politics in Ireland. I hope that in the future politics will be more equal for women.
I have spoken about the impact of period poverty in developing countries and referred to the work being done by the UNFPA, Plan International and other development agencies. However, period poverty is also an issue in this country. We heard powerful testimony at the briefing to which I refer in the audiovisual room regarding the impact of lack of access to sanitary products for many women and girls here. This affects quality of life. It affects access to education, access to work and, indeed, all sorts of other aspects of active life, such as sport. Councillor Rebecca Moynihan has pointed out that homeless women, those living in direct provision and women on low incomes struggle in the context of accessing sanitary products just as women and girls in developing countries have done for so long. Our motion seeks to tackle this aspect of period poverty here as well as in other countries.
I commend the Homeless Period Ireland organisation, founded by Ms Petra Hanlon and directed brilliantly by Ms Claire Hunt, which now has 30 drop-off points for people to donate sanitary products to homeless women. Indeed, we had a drop-off point in the Oireachtas to coincide with the debate in the Dáil on period poverty two weeks ago. I very much hope that will not be the last time we have a drop-off point here and that we will make it a regular event to have such drop-off points in order to raise awareness about period poverty in Ireland and in developing countries.
I am running out of time. Mindful that we are joined by such powerful young advocates for women in politics in the Gallery, I take this opportunity to state that no girl or woman should be held back from developing or thriving because of the stigma that surrounds periods. We hope that this motion is just the beginning of people in Ireland taking period poverty seriously and of tackling issues relating to stigma and access to sanitary products. We hope that the Government will take up the challenge we have laid down in this motion and that practical and tangible initiatives be put in place in order to address the very real issue of period poverty for so many women and girls throughout Ireland and, indeed, internationally.