Fighting The Cultural Shame & High Costs Of Menstrual Care In Remote Indigenous Communities

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Cara Munn, Evita Puruntatameri, Sophia Tipuanantunirri, and Louise Kelantumama at the Wurrumiyanga Women's Centre
Period poverty is a serious issue in Australia, where a significant number of people who menstruate struggle to access period products. Many First Nations women and girls in remote communities are within this group, with limited clean water and working toilets and the high costs of sanitary products contributing to the enormity of the issue.
The Wurrumiyanga Women's Centre on Bathurst Island, Northern Territory (part of the Tiwi Islands) has been receiving free pads and tampons from charity Share the Dignity since last year. It has just received another delivery of period products — the 100th pallet delivered as part of the charity's Indigenous Menstrual Health program in partnership with Libra.
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Evita Puruntatameri, the Activities Supervisor at Wurrumiyanga Women's Centre, says that period products are available to purchase at local stores, but "it's expensive".
"The price of pads and tampons in the community stores are ridiculous, so having them readily available in the women’s centre to pick up for free in private makes a massive difference to our health and pockets," she tells Refinery29 Australia.
Puruntatameri also says that menstruation is often considered taboo within some Indigenous communities, contributing to the wider challenges of women accessing support.
"That is the same in our community. Some ladies feel embarrassed to purchase items at the store in front of males," says Puruntatameri. "With other girlfriends, they do talk about it and have no shame.
"When you have your period there are cultural rules we also have to follow including no swimming, no hunting and no holding babies."
Share the Dignity's Founder and Managing Director Rochelle Courtenay says the organisation decided to launch the donation drive last year "after hearing stories of Indigenous girls having to resort to stealing pads or skipping school".
"In many remote communities, the cost of period products is much higher due to freight costs and lack of competition — it is not uncommon for packs of pads to retail for $15 or more," Courtenay says in a media release.
"Not only are women and girls in these areas unable to access to cheap period products, but many also go without clean water, working toilets and underwear — all of which are essential for good menstrual management."
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Nina Hall, a University of Queensland - School of Public Health lecturer, was one of several people who worked on a research project in 2018 and 2019 that examined menstrual health and hygiene among Indigenous Australian girls and women. The research found that availability, cost and education were the main factors contributing to this issue, which consequentially prevented young Indigenous women from accessing their basic human rights: the right to human dignity and the right to an education.
"If you can't manage your menstruation through having the right products, knowing what's happening to your body, having waste facilities, then you actually can't access your education or there are limits," she previously told ABC.
"Around the world there is research around girls missing school every month due to heavy days of their period and the inability to manage it because they don't have the facilities or the products."
She suggested improved puberty education, the public school health budget including the deliveries of pads to public schools, and appropriate disposal units of sanitary products in schools.
Share The Dignity encourages Australians wanting to support the charity in reaching more Indigenous communities to donate to the charity’s bi-annual Dignity Drives in March and August each year, or purchase a virtual pack of pads online.
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