Northern Ireland is “alone” in being the only part of the UK that does not have a permanent program in place to tackle menstrual poverty, a Stormont committee has said.
SDLP MP Pat Catney appeared before the Education Committee, which is considering its private member’s bill to make period goods freely available to all in schools, colleges and buildings public.
If the bill, which is currently going through the legislative process of the Assembly, is passed, it will create a legal right of free access to items such as tampons and sanitary napkins.
During his appearance before the committee, Mr Catney defended the use of neutral language in the bill, but said he was happy to change it if necessary.
Mr Catney said: “While this bill may appear to be very specific to the provision of period products, it touches on deeper concepts of equality, mutual respect and the right of all our citizens to live their lives. life with dignity. ”
He referred to a survey conducted by the charity Plan International which found that among 1,000 women in the UK aged 14 to 21, one in 10 women cannot afford groceries. menstruation at some point in her life.
Further research found that 49% of girls missed an entire day of school because of their period.
He added: “This is an outright indictment on our history of abuse, discrimination and under-representation of women and girls and their issues.”
Mr Catney pointed out that Scotland had become the first country in the world to make vintage goods free for all in 2020.
He also said that in England and Wales a number of programs were run by local authorities and NHS England.
He said that in Northern Ireland pilot programs had been set up by the Departments of Education and the Economy.
Mr Catney added: âWhile each of these programs is to be commended, it should be noted that these are only pilot programs.
âThis again leaves Northern Ireland the only part of the UK that does not have a permanent program in place to tackle menstrual poverty or provide products in educational or health facilities.
“My only non-negotiable point with the legislation is that it allows a range of free period products to be reasonably accessible to anyone who needs them.”
He added: âThere was an important discussion at the second stage (Assembly debate) around the use of non-sexist language in the bill.
âGender neutral writing has been government policy since 2007.
âThe language of my bill follows exactly the language of the Scottish bill. Gender neutral language is also used for local authority programs in England and Wales.
âThere is no doubt about the impact this legislation will have on women and girls.
“If the language used needs to be changed to better reflect this, I am happy that the bill refers to women, girls and those who are menstruating.”
Mr Catney said it was estimated the scheme would cost the executive Â£ 3.26million per year if the adoption in Northern Ireland was similar to that in Scotland.
Committee Chairman Chris Lyttle said: âIn my opinion it was unfortunate that some people used the second step to make a problem with the language used in the bill.
âWhenever you think of the voices of young women and girls who have been heard throughout the debate, and of all those who are menstruating, I am more than satisfied than the voices of those most affected by this issue. are well and truly heard. “
The committee agreed to write to all departments affected by the proposed legislation and seek legal advice.
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