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Speech: Statutes Amendment (Free Menstrual Hygiene Products Program Trial) Amendment Bill 2020

The Hon. T.A. FRANKS (17:49): I rise today on behalf the Greens to support this bill. It would allow for a trial of dispensing machines providing free menstrual hygiene products in South Australian government schools. It is an excellent initiative and I hope that at the end of this trial we will see it becoming common practice across South Australian schools. I remember last year when we all spoke on a similar motion in this chamber and the support for student access to menstrual hygiene products at the time. Sadly, I reflect, as my colleague the Hon. Connie Bonaros has in her speech, that we have not actually seen action on this issue since then. I would therefore like to thank both the Hon. Connie Bonaros and the Hon. Irene Pnevmatikos for bringing this bill before the parliament.

Students in our state are missing out on school, on excursions, on sport and physical education due to period poverty, with a simple solution of supplying free sanitary items in our schools. We can remove this barrier to education that our students currently face. Many girls and women have experienced a situation where they were caught off guard without sanitary products on hand. When this happens in a school, or when a girl, for example, first starts menstruating, the current expectation is that they will leave the bathroom and happily walk to the office (however far away that may be) without the appropriate protection. They are then expected to ask for a pad or a tampon in front of whoever may be there at the time, be it other students, parents, teachers, office staff, delivery people, gardeners and so on.

For a young girl or a girl living in poverty this would be extraordinarily hard, not only having to deal with the stigma that our society already puts on menstruation but her potential embarrassment from gossiping, and the double stigma of those who live in poverty itself rather than just period poverty. No student should have to spend time at school or at home worrying about how they are going to manage their period. Much like toilet paper, it should be considered a necessity for hygiene, and we have just seen how important toilet paper became to many South Australians.

These products should be provided to students free of charge so that should they need them they have these menstrual hygiene products so that their education is not impaired and indeed their ability to function in the school environment is not compromised. We should not be embarrassed about menstruation; however, I am sure that even those of us who do not mind talking about this even in this chamber now would remember in younger years that awkwardness that comes with it. We must recognise that for some girls this can be extraordinarily embarrassing to discuss or draw attention to and being faced with period poverty only adds to these feelings.

It is vital then that pads and tampons are accessible and available at no cost to everyone who needs them. I will also put in a plug for menstrual cups—and I did not mean to make a pun but there is always the danger with these speeches that that will happen. If anyone is caught by surprise by their period—and that can happen—these menstrual products need not be hidden away in first-aid kits; indeed, such an approach is woefully inadequate and without privacy for those students. Let's not forget that for a student to be able to ask school staff for access to menstrual hygiene products, they need to know that they are available to them in the first place, so this bill is an excellent solution and I look forward to the trial in this form being rolled out.

Menstruation has been and is still a cause of disenfranchisement, stigma and depression for girls and women in countries across the world. Indeed, when I worked for the YWCA and Amnesty International, there were many stories of particularly some villages where women are ostracised in either their own homes or indeed from their own villages, and that permeates through many, many cultures, including our own. Menstruation can have negative impacts on women's and girls' mental health due to that stigma and can be the cause of embarrassment, fear and anxiety. These are not factors conducive to a good education or full participation in our lives.

To add to this, the stress of not knowing how they or their parents will be able to afford what can be very expensive—needlessly so—sanitary products is one thing that we should not be further burdening them with. Last year, we saw the Victorian government lead the charge and become the first state in Australia to roll out the supply of free pads and tampons in schools. I hope South Australia will do the same. With that, I commend the bill to the chamber.

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