As broader recognition has emerged of the cost of essential period products, governments around the world have taken strides to address the issue of “period poverty.” Scotland last year passed legislation ensuring that the products are available for free to all who need them, and students in New Zealand will soon be able to get free menstrual products in schools.
Now, retailers are getting involved.
In Ireland, the supermarket chain Lidl will offer free period products in its stores across the country — the first major retailer to make period products available for free nationwide.
The initiative comes as the Irish government is discussing a bill that would enshrine free period products for all into law, similar to a measure in neighboring Scotland.
“The guiding principle of this initiative is the inherent respect for the dignity of all those concerned,” Aoife Clarke, a spokeswoman for Lidl Ireland, said in a statement, adding that the company wanted to support girls and women as a “family retailer.”
Activists welcomed the move as a sign that big businesses can strengthen campaigns to end “period poverty” — in which circumstances, financial or otherwise, leave those who menstruate without access to sanitary products.
The step by a major retailer to provide free sanitary products is a “game-changer,” said Claire Hunt, founder of Homeless Period Ireland, a volunteer organization that partnered with Lidl Ireland on the initiative.
She said the move sent a “positive message” that has even greater significance given the financial strain caused by the pandemic.
“If you’re experiencing food poverty or fuel poverty, you’re inevitably going to experience period poverty too,” Ms. Hunt said.
Under the initiative, which was announced on Monday, customers can claim a free box of sanitary pads or tampons each month beginning in May by downloading a coupon in the retailer’s app.
Lidl, a German-owned discount retailer, said it would also donate free period products to the Simon Communities of Ireland, a network of homelessness charities, and to Ladies Gaelic Football Association clubs across the country.
Neighboring Britain has also taken strides to address the issue of period poverty, particularly in Scotland, which last November became the first country to enact legislation making period products available free of charge to those who need them. In January, Britain’s government abolished a tax that classified sanitary products as nonessential, a charge that had been denounced as sexist. Schools across England and Wales offer period products, and Northern Ireland adopted a similar program last year.
In Ireland, about half of girls age 12 to 19 reported occasionally struggling to afford sanitary products, according to a 2018 survey by the children’s charity Plan International.
And although campaigners called the involvement of a big retailer promising, they said that more still needed to be done to address the underlying issues of poverty and to provide young people with better education on menstruation.
“If anything, it just opens conversations, and that’s the important thing,” Ms. Hunt said. “This is a dignity issue.”
Campaigners elsewhere agree.
Gabby Edlin, the chief executive of Bloody Good Period, a charity in Britain that provides and campaigns for free period products, said it was a symbol of change that businesses were getting involved.
“Nobody should be going into debt or struggling for money for something that is an essential part of human life,” she said.