When landmark news broke this morning about Scotland becoming the first nation to pass legislation to make sanitary products freely available for its citizens, the topic of period poverty in an office predominantly featuring women inevitably led to the great work two young South Australians have been doing.
Isobel Marshall and Eloise Hall have worked hard to remove the stigma around menstruation through their social enterprise, TABOO, a business that seeks to educate and support the fight against period poverty by selling tampons and pads where 100% of the net profit is donated to sustainable projects that support sanitary health and education.
TABOO was launched four years ago, a similar timeframe to Scottish Labour’s health spokeswoman MSP Monica Lennon’s grassroots campaign to end period poverty in Scotland by making sanitary products freely available nationwide.
Today, the Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Act passed in parliament, marking a momentous victory for the global mission.
The act decrees that local authorities must make period products available for all that need them, this includes schools, colleges and universities to provide the products for free.
I spoke to one half of TABOO, Isobel Marshall, who was recently named the State recipient of Young Australian of the Year 2021, on the struggle against period poverty and the steps that can be taken a bit closer to home.
“We started TABOO with the purpose of selling our own organic product where 100% of our funds would go overseas,” Isobel explains.
Within their customers however, a group who didn’t need period products but wanted to support their cause became apparent.
Women who don’t menstruate, men, and groups approached the founders on how they could best contribute.
Simultaneously, outreach groups were asking TABOO to donate sanitary products.
“We married those two groups, so people who want to help but don’t need the product can get involved in a subscription service and organisations can send the product to those who need it,” she says.
NPY Women’s Council and Vinnies Women’s Crisis centre are among the groups partnering with TABOO in circulating products.
While tackling freely available sanitary products for all isn’t next on the list for TABOO, Isobel tells me that they are focusing on schools around the country, where teachers are often paying for sanitary products out of pocket for students who are often uneducated on the topic.
Two recent surveys collated by the Commissioner of Children and Young People, Helen Connolly, sheds light to the alarming number of young people who are suffering as a direct result of period poverty.
Of the 3000 young people around SA surveyed, one in four surveyed reported that they missed out on attending school due to not having period products available.
More than two out of three reported having to use either toilet paper, tissues, socks, or torn sheets to manage their periods because they could not afford other sanitary items.
On top of these figures, one in four reported that they knew only ‘a little’, ‘not much’ or ‘nothing at all’ before they had their first period, and two out of three reported that they felt very uncomfortable talking about periods at school with their teachers and peers.
Isobel says that a lot of the miscommunication stems from some people expecting menstrual education to come from school and others expecting it to come from home. In the process, many girls and boys fall through the cracks.
“The stigma surrounding menstruation is rooted in the lack of understanding and the shame surrounded in telling people,” she says.
“We’re hoping to create an expectation that makes schools and businesses provide [period products] for their people.”
“We had high hopes for TABOO, high expectations and standards, but we didn’t realise how complicated this issue is. It is not just as simple as a brand of tampons and pads.”
For the TABOO team, “whether it be education, driving initiative, creating a community who are willing to pursue the same mission, it’s all about chipping away at the stigma around periods and helping a lot of people along the way.”
So, is there potential for Australia to implement freely available sanitary products?
Commissioner Connolly has been long pointing out the efforts New Zealand Prime Minister, Jacinda Ardern; MSP Monica Lennon; and Queensland Premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, have made in addressing the issue.
Highlighting how the state of Victoria introduced free pads and tampons in all government schools in July 2020, Commissioner Connolly is calling for Members of Parliament to adopt the perspective on ending period poverty in SA, and hopefully leading to legislation that will deliver universal period access.
For the TABOO team and Commissioner Connolly, 2021 is looking bright with plans, launches, and initiatives that continue to expand the conversation surrounding period poverty.
For more information about the Commissioner for Children and Young People, head to https://www.ccyp.com.au/.
To purchase TABOO products and keep up to date with their activities, head to https://tabooau.co/.