Union accuses council of ‘insulting’ approach to period health

A trade union has accused Newry Mourne and Down District Council of an “insulting” approach to helping female employees cope with periods.

Unite claims that the council management approach should focus on providing women with “dignity and normalising a natural biological process”.

Unite Regional Women’s and Equalities Officer, Taryn Trainor, challenged the “insulting and patronising” approach adopted by council management in response to her union’s ‘period dignity’ campaign.

“Over the last year, Unite has been leading a period dignity campaign that seeks to address both the growing problem of period poverty and the fact that women are forced to feel shame or embarrassment about their periods,” she said.

“Key objectives of this campaign are to ensure that tampons and other sanitary products are provided free by employers and public authorities, that they are zero rated for VAT, and that having a period is viewed as a natural facet of female biology.

“While some employers such as Rolls Royce and even other councils in Northern Ireland have adopted an enlightened approach to this issue, sadly Newry, Mourne and Down District Council has adopted a very retrogressive attitude. Instead of providing sanitary materials free – on the same basis as toilet rolls are provided – the local authority has placed the onus on their already poorly-paid staff to donate sanitary products in order to address the growing problem of period poverty.

“What is perhaps even more shocking is the language used by management in launching their ‘pink present’ campaign. The email sent to staff claimed the issue of period poverty was a ‘silent’ issue that needed to be dealt with in a ‘discreet’ way by staff.

“It is entirely unacceptable that women and girls are made to feel that their ‘time of the month’ is inconvenient or shameful; indeed, women and men have shied away from talking about periods openly for far too long. Unite believes that, by changing perceptions, we can tackle some of the wider issues around periods. We want access to sanitary products in the workplace and schools to be as normal as having access to things such as toilet roll. Management of Newry, Mourne and Down District Council need to change course and treat their female workforce with dignity”, Ms Trainor said.

A council spokeswoman said: “Newry, Mourne and Down District Council is carrying out the Pink Present pilot scheme as a response to the increasingly recognised issue of ‘Period Poverty’ within the wider community.

“We are facilitating donations so that products are available to anybody who needs them.

“This project is being carried out in partnership with the Southern Health and Social Care Trust and the Southern Regional College and is an initiative which has previously been run in other parts of Northern Ireland.

“There is currently limited data and statistical evidence on what the local need is for a period poverty project and this is what this pilot is trying to establish.

“We are very happy with how the scheme has been supported to date and will evaluate the scheme after the pilot has ended.

“We are committed to working with all our partners to deal with any health inequalities that are prevalent within our district and will continue to explore ways of helping those people in most need.”