Some university halls, in combination with Students Association initiatives, are to begin giving away feminine hygiene products.

University Hall’s committee has approved plans to give out free tampons and other female sanitary products to female students living in the hall. They began being given out on Monday 11 April, and have so far proven to be a popular intervention among the student body.

Madeline Buchanan, a second year biology student who sits on the committee as the representative for the all-female Wardlaw block was in charge of implementing the proposal. Madeline told The Saint that she “talked with the girls to see what they wanted and talked with residence managers about the proposals.”

The proposal have not been met with immediate support by the residence managers who requested that there be a trial period to test its success before it can be properly rolled out as they are “concerned about the costs involved.”

Ms Buchanan said: “I ordered a total of 200 tampons from Amazon for the trial period and I’ve been distributing them by putting little bowls in the women’s bathrooms across the hall.

“There are two different types of pads and tampons that I’ve bought and so far there’s been a good level of reception. The tampons are mainly for financial support given that there is an added tax on tampons if you buy them in the shop because they are classed as luxury items. This was actually the original reasoning behind the plan.”

Ms Buchanan stated that another reason behind the tampon plan was in case of “emergencies.” The money to pay for the tampons has come from University Hall’s budget.

Going on, she said, “There has been a very supportive reaction across the board with most girls being very appreciative of the fact that we are taking the lack of female sanitary product provision seriously and implementing a free service as it is other wise quite expensive to buy tampons on a regular basis.”

However, Ms Buchanan acknowledges that there have been concerns about whether the tampons would be “tampered with if they were placed in unisex bathrooms.”

Kirsten Ross, a first year resident of University Hall said: “I think it’s a great idea to widen access to sanitary products in hall and hopefully it’s something that we can start to see across the University buildings in the near future. It’s something that I know other halls are already doing, Agnes Blackadder for example.

“The fact that the prices are becoming increasingly unaffordable … means that these ideas are needed now more than ever.”

This is a sentiment repeated by another resident of University Hall, Victoria Gilbert who said that she thinks it is “great that University Hall has introduced this new system as it is so useful and it feels great to feel as though [she is] really being looked after.”

She added that the price of tampons in shops is “extortionate.” Lorna-Jean Nicholson Fjortoft, a resident of Andrew Melville Hall criticised the lack of availability of free tampons in the hall, saying that it “would be a good thing.”

She decried the situation in the Union at the moment, explaining that she put a pound in the Union tampon machine and never got a tampon because it was broken even though she called the bouncer in.

However, another student Alex Sadie said that “with the money that St Andrews has, there should be funding for free tampons but at the same time if they did do that, it would be nice to have condoms in the Union for free also.

She believes that the provision of free tampons will make students expect a similar provision of condoms. “Right now if you want condoms for free you have to go up to a representative to get them which makes it not as accessible and an unnecessarily hassle but if there was a night where condoms were just placed somewhere for people to go up to it and grab it and it would be great if the same were applied to tampons,” she said.

Viktoria Szanto, a second year student said that: “I think the Union should give free tampons because we have just as much a right to them as we do to condoms and they give them for free.

She added that free tampons ”obviously wouldn’t be for all the time, only in emergencies.”

Izzy Hoskins, a second year student, said “If it’s reasonable to hand out toilet paper in public facilities, or napkins at the Union, tampons shouldn’t be an exception.”

The issue of the affordability of feminine hygiene products has gained much attention in recent months as debate over the so call “tampon tax” – the luxury VAT status given to such sanitary products – has raged on.

Campaigners achieved an apparent victory in March as Prime Minister David Cameron announced that as part of his renegotiation with the European Union, the “tampon tax” would be removed.

In a speech to the House of Commons last month, Cameron said: “Britain will be able to have a zero rate for sanitary products, meaning the end of the tampon tax.”

He said he understood that the EU’s rules on taxation were “inflexible” and saw how they “could cause considerable frustration.” Toby Emerson, formerly the Student Representative Council Member (SRC) for External Campaigns is also organising, as part of an initiative he began, an event tomorrow (Friday 22 April) to give out free sanitary products.

Speaking to The Saint he said, “The event is effectively a giveaway. The Union has funded around 2,000 pads and 1,000 tampons of various varieties which we will be giving for free to students on Friday outside of the Union.

Continuing, Mr Emerson said, “The fantastic ennactus group SAVE will also be there, promoting and selling rubycups (a form of mooncup whose makers promote a social mission) for a discounted price. There will also be an opportunity for students to donate their share of tampons to SAVE’s own social mission to provide sanitary products to disadvantaged women throughout Fife.

He also praised the efforts of individual halls, saying, “Any leftover products will be donated to student halls to trial schemes like the fantastic one started by Bernie Munro in New Hall, in which the hall provides sanitary products to students from the hall budget. This scheme has proven a success in New Hall and I want to give other halls the opportunity to give it a go.”

While praising the government’s initiative to abolish the “tampon tax”, Mr Emerson made it clear he believed initiatives such as his were still important, “The tampon tax was never really my personal drive behind this. Of course, it was the tax that instigated this ongoing project, and I applaud the government and EU measures to remove it. But for me, this is about the students, and I think that’s the important point here. Many students at this university are women, and sanitary products are an extra and significant cost that the rest of us don’t have to pay.

“You could even think of it like a tax on being female, and that extra cost is difficult for some students, especially given the high cost of living in this town.

“The Union could be doing a lot more to support students in this capacity. That’s why I’ve spent a lot of time this year talking to students, talking to Union management, and trying to think of ways to do this.

“That’s why I wholeheartedly support the scheme being implemented by senior students in halls to provide sanitary products to students and have been chatting with them and the outgoing Accommodation Officer, Alex Ciric, to see what else we can do. That’s why we have this event coming up funded by the External Campaigns budget, in collaboration with SAVE.

“I want to build a viable way for the Union to fund sanitary products for students.

“The vast, vast majority students I’ve spoken to – and granted that’s a small proportion of the student body as a whole – have been overwhelmingly supportive.

“Charlotte [Andrew, Association President-elect] has already agreed to discuss this with me, and I look forward to speaking to Jack [Carr, Director of Representation-elect] and Holly [Johnston, Wellbeing Officer] at Wellbeing about it in the near future.

He conclued by saying: “There’s this ridiculous stigma around menstruation that still persists somewhat inexplicably. I don’t think that a there needs to be a taxon tampons for us to be talking about the cost of sanitary products for our students.”

 

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