Belfast Telegraph

Northern Ireland behind as rest of UK signs up for free sanitary products in schools

Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi
Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi
Claire Williamson

By Claire Williamson

Northern Ireland will be the only place in the UK where girls will not have access to free sanitary products in schools from next year.

The Government has announced that the products would be made available in secondary and primary schools in England from early 2020.

It came after last month's announcement that the products would be made available in secondary schools, which was criticised for not going far enough.

But yesterday Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi confirmed the scheme, fully funded by the UK Department for Education, will be extended to include younger schoolgirls.

It has prompted calls for Northern Ireland to be brought in line with the rest of the UK. Last year the Scottish Government unveiled a £5.2m scheme to provide free products in schools, colleges and universities. And earlier this month, the Welsh Government welcomed a £2.3m grant for free sanitary products in all primary and secondary schools.

No announcements have been made for schools in Northern Ireland. However, in 2018, Derry and Strabane District Council became the first local authority here to offer products in some of its public buildings.

Yesterday, the Department of Education said along with other departments, they were considering the costs.

The spokeswoman said: "We are in discussions with colleagues in Department for Communities, Department of Health, Department for the Economy and local councils to consider the issues, potential costs and options that we may wish to propose to an incoming minister."

While there are currently no specific statistics for Northern Ireland, in February research from the Bloody Big Brunch indicated that more than a quarter of girls or women have missed either work or school because of period poverty.

The Red Box Project was set up in England in 2017 in a bid to stop girls missing school because of their periods. They rely on donations from the public to create a sustainable stock of products in schools.

Claire Best, from the Red Box Project NI, said they hope Northern Ireland will follow suit.

"We hope that one day the Red Box Project won't have to exist at all and for England, Scotland and Wales that is going to be the case as of early 2020 after the most recent announcements," she said.

"In an ideal world, we would have the same provision here in Northern Ireland because, since starting Red Box here back in September, there has been a fairly big demand for this in schools across the province."

She continued: "The period poverty stats are UK based but, simply from talking to people and the sheer demand for this here, we can see that it is definitely an issue.

"My hope is that we will follow suit, and that Northern Ireland will at some stage be able to give products for free, but that really does depend on what happens here."

Claire says no young girl should be faced with the decision of whether they can afford lunch or a sanitary product.

She said: "Her mind should be on things like learning and creativity and growth, it shouldn't be, 'can I afford to buy lunch today because I need to buy a box of tampons'."

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