Cork college tackles period poverty by giving out free products

Munster Technological University (MTU) are launching a new campaign called Code Red, offering students and staff free access to period products in a bid to tackle period poverty and taboo around the subject, writes EMMA CONNOLLY
Cork college tackles period poverty by giving out free products

Head of the School of Humanities Prof. Margaret Linehan, Julie Anne Young, International Student Officer, Sinéad O’Mahony, Vice President of Welfare and MTU Student Union, Maria Cullinane, Lecturer MTU and Lisa Moran, Graduate Studies MTU. Picture: Darragh Kane

FREE period products are to be provided to students and staff in Munster Technological University (MTU) to end period poverty and to break taboos surrounding menstruation.

Tampons and pads will be available in around 60 locations across all six MTU campuses, including Bishopstown, the School of Music, the College of Art and Design, the National Maritime College, and its two Kerry campuses.

Called Code Red, the project is designed to tackle period poverty so that women – intersex, trans, or non-binary person – who menstruate should not have to miss educational activities, work, or recreation due to lack of access to appropriate products.

It is estimated that Irish women spend an average of €132 every year on tampons and sanitary towels; and research shows that 50% of young Irish women have experienced issues around affording them.

Product dispensers have been installed in MTU toilets stocked with sustainable single-use sanitary pads and tampons, developed by West Cork based company Riley.

A number of re-usable products such as moon cups and period pants are available from MTU Students Union offices on request. Lidl have also sponsored ‘take-away’ product packs for the next year.

Head of the School of Humanities Prof. Margaret Linehan, Lisa Moran, Graduate Studies MTU, Sinéad O’Mahony, Vice President of Welfare and MTU Student Union, Julie Anne Young, International Student Officer and Maria Cullinane, Lecturer MTU. Picture: Darragh Kane
Head of the School of Humanities Prof. Margaret Linehan, Lisa Moran, Graduate Studies MTU, Sinéad O’Mahony, Vice President of Welfare and MTU Student Union, Julie Anne Young, International Student Officer and Maria Cullinane, Lecturer MTU. Picture: Darragh Kane

The hard-working and diverse group behind the ground-breaking Code Red is grassroots-led and comprises students and staff. Interestingly, it was first mooted by a male member of staff, Dermot Barry, the MTU Technical Officer.

“My union, Unite, started running a period dignity campaign in the UK, and subsequently reached out to reps in Ireland,” said Dermot.

“Being a husband and a father of an 11-year old-girl, I thought that this was a very worthwhile initiative and so I decided to set up a working group.

“We were lucky that the working group grew and now includes many dedicated and inspirational members.”

That includes Professor Margaret Linehan, Head of the School of Humanities, who said: “Not every woman can afford to buy essential feminine hygiene products when they need them.

“On health grounds, this is a serious issue, but we should also be viewing it as a dignity issue. Providing sanitary supplies is not a luxury, but a necessity and MTU are happy to lead by example by investing in period justice.”

Ellen O’Shea, of the MTU Equality, Diversity and Inclusion Team, added: “Nobody knows another person’s circumstances or whether they can afford the products. If toilet paper is free, then sanitary products should be as well.”

The campaign also wants to end period taboo through events, talks, and workshops.

Lisa Moran, Graduate Studies Administrative Coordinator, said that among other things they were motivated by gender equality.

“We want to make life easier for female students and and also to reduce stigma around periods. Things are improving but there’s still lots of hiding products up your sleeve, and feeling embarrassed.

“We must talk about things to normalise them. Everyone uses the bathroom so we thought, why not start there? This is about bringing period dignity to MTU, one bathroom at a time.”

In April, 2021, Lidl became the first major retailer to offer free period products and they have teamed up with Homeless Period Ireland and The Simon Communities of Ireland.

Currently in Ireland the ‘Period Products (Free Provision) Bill 2021, sponsored by TDs and Senators Rebecca Moynihan, Mark Wall, Marie Sherlock, Annie Hoey and Ivana Bacik, is before Seanad Éireann.

“As the country waits for this bill to be passed, MTU is acting,” said Lisa.

Maria Cullinane, lecturer in the Deptartment of Process, Energy and Transport Engineering, said there had “been enough of pretending periods don’t exist”.

Working in a male dominated department and in a building with just two toilets and suffering heavy periods, has been her reality for years.

Head of the School of Humanities Prof. Margaret Linehan, President of MTU Professor Maggie Cusack and Sinéad O’Mahony, Vice President of Welfare and MTU Student Union. Picture: Darragh Kane
Head of the School of Humanities Prof. Margaret Linehan, President of MTU Professor Maggie Cusack and Sinéad O’Mahony, Vice President of Welfare and MTU Student Union. Picture: Darragh Kane

Fears of being caught without a period product and having few people to ask, or having to hide products in her desk and ‘risk’ a male colleague seeing them, are all things she’s looking forward to leaving behind and she said: “We have to move on from it being a taboo subject.”

Meanwhile, Siobhan Kangataran, Equality Diversity and Inclusion Manager, said there was a also body of work to be done when it comes to debunking period myths, and downright disinformation such as women having a capacity ‘to hold it in’.

The project is funded by MTU, and Professor Maggie Cusack, MTU President added: “Providing free sanitary products is another step towards equality across MTU. We know that period poverty is real and therefore at MTU we are addressing it.

“Code Red will make a difference to the lives of our students and staff on the most basic, human dignity, level and will allow students to focus on what really matters while attending third level education – working towards their degree.”

Sinead O’Mahony, VP for Welfare in MTU Cork Students’ Union, said it was great to be part of a university that was putting forward resources to making this happen and Julie Anne Young, MTU International Officer, highlighted that everyone has a role to play in the normalisation of period dignity.

“If you feel you can’t see the point of a project like this, you are unaware of your own privilege,” she said.

The ambition is that this campaign will inspire other colleges in the country and the Code Red group are hopeful their movement will extend to Cork City and County Council buildings and other public buildings across Cork.

EVENTS FOR LAUNCH WEEK

The Code Red launch week takes place from October 12 to 14 and is tackling period taboo through a series of educational online sessions and on campus events, all in accordance with current government health guidelines.

Events include an educational workshop on ‘Reuseable Menstrual Products,’ a ‘Make Your Own Upcycled Reusable Menstrual Products’ workshop, a ‘Periods and Contraception’ workshop run by the Sexual Health Clinic Cork, a seminar on ‘How to Use Sanitary Products’ presented by We Live Our Values and a ‘Sport and Periods’ talk.

All launch events are free but as spaces are limited at certain events, booking is advised. Tickets can be booked through www.cit.ie/edi/period-dignity- ----

WINNING BRAND

In May, 2021, the working group organised a student competition for the project, instilling a real sense of ownership of this project within the MTU community.

The winning name and brand, Code Red, was designed by Eimear Devane, a Final Year Marketing student.

MORE ABOUT PERIOD POVERTY

Every day approximately 800 million women, girls, trans, and non-binary people menstruate.

International measures to combat period poverty include zero or reduced rates of sales tax on period products.

Scotland and New Zealand have passed legislation to ensure period products are available to all those who need them.

In Ireland today, national data regarding consistent poverty rates would suggest that approximately 53,000 to 85,000 women and girls may be at risk of period poverty.

Costs for period products average €132 per year per person and this does not include costs of medication and doctor consultations, if required.

MORE ABOUT RILEY

West Cork based company Riley is run by three friends who took a gamble and left reliable jobs to set up their eco-friendly period product subscription service.

The trio felt so passionate about changing the conversations around periods, improving menstrual health and basically making women’s lives easier, they didn’t see any other option.

Aine Kilkenny, Fiona Parfrey, and Lauren Duggan are the women behind Riley, which was born out of a late night chat during lockdown.

For more see

weareriley.com

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