Words: Eva O’Beirne
New legislation in the North will require all public buildings to supply period products, the provision of safe access zones for those seeking abortion and ten days paid leave for victims and survivors of domestic violence.
The period poverty bill was brought forward by SDLP MLA Pat Catney who said he was inspired by the work of activists and the encouragement of his daughters and granddaughters.
Commenting on its passing he said: “This is what politics should be about and it is the whole reason I am involved in political life. Over the last two years, I have heard heartbreaking stories about young women forced to use toilet paper, cloth and newspaper as an alternative to period products because the cost is so prohibitive. As a father and a grandfather, I couldn’t bear the thought of any of our girls going through that.”
A survey conducted by the SDLP last year found that 45 per cent of respondents struggled to afford or access period products during menstruation.
A total of 69 per cent of respondents had been forced to use sanitary products for longer than advised or use unsuitable alternatives, such as toilet paper, newspaper or cloth.
Bills to end religious discrimination in the recruitment of teachers, to provide safe access zones around abortion clinics and to provide paid leave for victims of domestic violence were also passed yesterday.
The safe access zone bill, which was brought by Green Party leader Clare Bailey, was passed by 55 votes to 29, prompting a round of applause in the public gallery.
Bailey said on the Bill: “The deliberate and concerted campaign of harassment and intimidation against women has to stop. During my time as a volunteer with the Marie Stopes clinic, I was spat at, splashed with holy water, called a murderer, and watched a woman run into oncoming traffic to escape these people. This needs to stop, this is not protest as I understand it.”
Abortion laws in Northern Ireland were liberalised in 2019 following legislation passed by Westminster when the Assembly was suspended by Sinn Fein. However, while individual health trusts have been offering services, the Northern Irish Department of Health has yet to centrally commission the services.
The new regulations with safe-access zones will place a further duty on the department to make abortion services available as soon as possible.
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