SDLP MLA Pat Catney yesterday introduced his Period Products (Free Provision) Bill to Stormont – the start of a journey which will see it debated in the Assembly and scrutinised in committees en route to becoming law.
It calls upon the Department of Health to “ensure that period products are obtainable free of charge by all persons who need to use them”.
The text of the bill indicates they would be made available via schools, colleges, universities, and health facilities.
The text runs to about 2,000 words, and does not include any of the following terms: woman, women, girl, girls, female, or feminine.
Asked why, Mr Catney (representing Lagan Valley) told the News Letter: “This ground-breaking legislation is aimed at providing period products free for anyone who needs them.
“The experiences I have heard from people who can’t afford these vital healthcare products, or who have been forced to use unsuitable alternatives like newspaper, are horrifying and I felt moved to take action.
“The truth is some men experience menstruation and rather than debating gender definitions, my focus is on providing inclusive, universal access to a product that people need to manage their own healthcare needs.
“When I listened the experiences of the people who couldn’t afford period products, men and women, it was clear to me that provision should be universal for all who needed it and it was my decision for the bill to reflect this.”
Whilst some more traditionalist people in Northern Ireland remain divided over things like gay marriage and gay clergy, the activists who formerly focussed on gay rights have largely moved on to new arenas such as the definitions of words like “man” and “woman”.
According to gender campaigners there are not two genders but many, and people can decide to be male, female, or some other gender regardless of their biology.
Last month, the News Letter reported that the Department of Education – under DUP minister Michelle McIlveen – said it would spend £2.6m on giving free period products to “pupils who menstruate” (as opposed to “girls” or “young women”).
This was because it was deemed not “inclusive” to talk about periods as being a female issue.
Belfast-based LGBTQQIA+ lobby group The Rainbow Project (and others) had hailed the move, saying: “The department are correct in their response that not all those who menstruate identify as females, and the only way to address this is to recognise the impact of period poverty on all people who menstruate.”
Meanwhile Kathleen Stock OBE, a professor of philosophy at the University of Sussex, whose work focuses on gender, had called this “intellectually incoherent nonsense” and says: “Women and girls are the only people who will ever need period products, and there is nothing wrong with saying that.”
It was exactly this issue which sparked a storm of controversy around feted children’s author JK Rowling last year (read more about that here).
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