For half of the population, this is a common experience, yet we've spent years stuffing tampons up our sleeves to go to the office bathroom like it's a shameful secret. In workplaces where our colleagues are predominantly men, hiding our periods feels like an even bigger deal, and we're often left in tricky situations where we're without a tampon or pad when we need one.
So should all workplaces offer free period care products? According to an Australian Workplace Period Care Audit in 2022, it appears that most of the country says yes, with 99% of Australian workers believing that providing free accessible period care makes a workplace more inclusive. And when workplaces are more inclusive, they're more productive, efficient and better places to be. Add to this the fact that period poverty in general is a serious issue in our country, with 1 in 5 people who menstruate having to 'improvise' on period products due to their cost.
Given this cultural push towards more accessible period care, we're seeing more companies treating access to period products like the human right that it is, by making them freely available to all staff and visitors. Not only is this a practical necessity for those who menstruate, but this initiative means that the shame and stigma around having your period at work, or just having your period, period, is being challenged.
“Half the world gets their period, yet only a fraction of workplaces provide their employees free period care," says Tessa Westerhof, co-founder of WOOM, an Australian startup with a mission to tackle menstruation stigma by offering accessible period care for the workplace. WOOM was born out of a conversation in an office bathroom between its founders about the lack of access to period care not just at their own workplace, but workplaces everywhere. "Workers are increasingly prioritising flexibility, wellbeing and inclusion, and free period care products should be the bare minimum," Westerhof says.
This prioritisation of inclusivity and comfort at work has been shown to be mutually beneficial for both employees and employers, and is a particularly important step in establishing and maintaining workplace gender equality. “There is still a taboo to be broken around periods in the workplace, which can lead to people feeling unsupported and isolated,” says organisational psychotherapist and leadership coach Eloise King. "But the simple act of providing free period-care products and embracing rather than hiding them can shift the dial on period shame.”
According to King, nurturing feelings of inclusion and comfort in a workplace can have a number of psychological and economic benefits for both employees and employers, from cultivating a positive workplace culture, to productivity and even talent retention.
And it's not just workplaces — the NSW government recently introduced free period care to its public schools too. Menstrual products are now freely available to all NSW public schools students, with more than 4600 dispensers being installed in public schools across the state. This initiative aims to support young Australian people in overcoming any barriers to their education simply because of their period.
Likewise, Sydney's Inner West Council made free period care available in late 2022 by installing period product dispensers across a number of the Council's facilities. Of this initiative, Inner West Deputy Mayor Philippa Scott said that she thought it was high time that period products be as ubiquitous and free as towels and toilet paper. “These products are not luxury items," Ms Scott said in a media release. "They are everyday necessities which ought to be free to our community.”
Seeing as we spend the majority of our lives in the workplace, it stands to reason that of all the places to provide free period care, it should probably be them. “This is a simple fix that should have been handled years ago, and as companies, if you’re not ahead of the curve, you’ll be left behind," says Tanisha Rodriguez, Head of People & Culture at Entropico and one of WOOM’s first customers. "As employers, we need to create space for people to be themselves. And we should be proud of menstruating — it’s a powerful thing. It shouldn't be something that we should be ashamed of in any shape or form.”