An initiative to provide free sanitary products to consumers from next month has been welcomed by campaigners, but the onus remains on the Government to tackle period poverty they say.
From today, Lidl Ireland customers can sign up to receive a free monthly coupon for a box of sanitary pads or tampons on the Lidl Plus app, the first of which they will receive on May 3.
The initiative, launched in collaboration with Homeless Period Ireland and the Simon Communities of Ireland, will also see the retailer donate products to the Simon Community for those in need who don't have access to a smartphone.
The move comes on foot of legislative changes proposed by Labour senator Rebecca Moynihan which would compel the Minister for Health to provide period products free of charge in education settings and public buildings throughout the country.
Her bill, entitled The Period Products (Free Provisions Bill) would see Ireland follow in the footsteps of Scotland and New Zealand, who have recently taken similar measures.
Welcoming the move by Lidl and its partners, Senator Moynihan said she hoped it was “a sign of things to come.”
“I hope that the Government see that if a private company is willing to take a leap forward on period justice, then it is absolutely possible and incumbent on the State to do so too.”
Senator Moynihan said her bill would provide “universal access” to period products in education settings and public buildings which would help protect the most vulnerable in society and end the unnecessary stigma around periods.
The Senator said feedback from public consultation has also highlighted the impact the pandemic has had on period poverty.
“Almost half of women (46%) have experienced problems accessing or affording period products,” she said, but 60% have had “increased difficulty” in accessing period products due to Covid-19.
“This can have huge social and health consequences, but ultimately it is an affront to our dignity as humans,” she said.
Period poverty, which is defined as the inability to afford safe, hygienic sanitary products, has been internationally recognised as a health and social issue.
Research carried out by Plan International in 2018 found almost 50 per cent of Irish girls aged between 12 and 19 found it difficult to pay for sanitary products, while one in 10 of those surveyed stated they had used a “less suitable sanitary product” as a result of cost barriers.
The Period Poverty in Ireland report, published by the Government in February, found that as many as 85,000 individuals across the country may be at risk of period poverty.
It also estimated the annual costs of period products per person are estimated at €96.72, not including pain relief which brings the estimate to a minimum of €121 per year.
Orla O'Connor, Director of the National Women's Council of Ireland (NWCI) said while it was great to see companies like Lidl taking initiative and reaching out to organisations such as Homeless Period Ireland, combatting period poverty should be “government led.”
“In other countries, it's been introduced in legislation.. they should be making available period products in public places such as schools, colleges, libraries, swimming pools."
"Wherever people go... they should be readily and freely accessible.”
Claire Hunt, founder of Homeless Period Ireland, said Lidl are "taking the lead in restoring dignity to people across the entire country" with this initiative.
However, it is her "hope" that in due course much-anticipated legislation and measures will be implemented.
"Homeless Period Ireland and indeed initiatives like this one should no longer have to exist.”