Tampons and pads: Is Ireland "On The Baw"? 2 months ago

Tampons and pads: Is Ireland "On The Baw"?

It's time to stand up for female fans.

Stadium bathrooms provide basic services that every fan takes for granted; running water, soap, toilet paper. That being said, most fans have probably found themselves in a situation where one (or more) of the above hasn’t been readily available, to varying degrees of being stuck in an awkward situation. If you’ve been in one, you’ll know what I mean.

Then why are we permanently putting female fans in these situations? Why can we not make sports grounds a leader in combatting period poverty? Why are we not providing vital sanitary products for female fans?

The On The Baw movement in the U.K. is attempting to do just that. It was set up by three Celtic fans; Orlaith Duffy, Erin Slaven and Mikaela McKinley, almost accidentally, as they sought to improve access to tampons and pads at their own club before it broadened into a wider demand for genuine social change;

“In April 2018 we travelled through to our Scottish Parliament to witness the vote for repeal of the Offensive Behaviour at Football Act (OBFA). The Act was repealed and this was success for fan group, Fans Against Criminalisation and their seven year campaign. We were inspired seeing football fans and working class people, just like us, make such huge change! This is when Erin raised the idea and we quickly got to work organising. We originally hoped to make the change at only our own club, Celtic FC. Once Celtic agreed to make period products free and accessible at Celtic Park things started snowballing and we moved on from being three fans with an idea to a campaign for wider change; 'On The Baw'.”

 As a direct result of the On The Baw campaign, 105 football clubs around the world now provide sanitary products for female fans free of charge. The partaking clubs stretch from LA Galaxy to Leyton Orient, Altonear FC to Aberdeen… and Derry City to Drogheda United.

But, Irish participation in the programme, across a number of different sports, is generally low.

SportsJOE contacted the 10 League of Ireland Premier Division clubs from the 2019 season, Irish Rugby, the FAI, the GAA and each of the four rugby provinces and asked whether they provided the products, and if not were there plans to implement it in the foreseeable future.

The results were pretty clear, and somewhat disappointing. As mentioned above, Derry City and Drogheda United (in the First Division) provide the products, while Shamrock Rovers were the first club in Ireland to come on board. That leaves the vast majority of football grounds not taking part. Free tampons and pads are not available in the Aviva Stadium, Croke Park or any of the four provincial rugby grounds. However, this seems mainly due to a lack of awareness of the campaign, its aims and a lack of vocal demand from regular supporters.

Period Poverty

Period poverty is a real and serious challenge for Irish women. Half of females between the ages of 12-19 surveyed last year said they had struggled to pay for vital sanitary products. When Shamrock Rovers came on board, they were approached by Claire Hunt, General Manager of the charity Homeless Period Ireland. Speaking to SportsJOE, Claire told us of the harrowing effects of period poverty in Ireland;

“Period Poverty can be a hidden issue in Ireland. It obviously affects women & girls who are homeless and in Direct Provision but it also affects those who don't have access to products and who don't have the spare cash to part with every month. Women & girls in our communities are using kitchen tissue, toilet paper or cut up pieces of fabric and that is the very sad reality.”

As mentioned above, the issue is intertwined with that of barriers to female participation in sport, both as active participants and as fans;

“It is really important that clubs provide period products to female fans as this helps raise awareness of period poverty and also helps reduce the stigma and shame associated with periods and as On the Baw have shown it increases the visibility of female fans of which there are many! (myself included!) Earlier this year Homeless Period Ireland and Mark Lynch from Shamrock Rovers came together to provide period products for fans. Derry City and Drogheda United are also 'on the baw' but more clubs need to get involved. Also as female participation in all sports, especially football, is on the increase, we want to be able to send a strong message to girls that periods are normal. History tells us that girls drop out of sport as they enter teenage years. We don't want periods to be a contributing factor to this statistic.”

Shamrock Rovers and On The Baw

Shamrock Rovers, as mentioned by Claire, were the first Irish club to come on board, providing free sanitary products in female toilets at Tallaght Stadium. Speaking to SportsJOE, Board Director at Rovers Mark Lynch laid out the simple reasoning behind their decision;

“We were approached by Homeless Period Ireland, by Claire (Hunt) in there, who is to be commended, she's doing all this on a voluntary basis, trying to get stadia involved, trying to get other facilities involved. So she came to us with the notion and we immediately said 'yeah, absolutely'. There's something we can do as a club to help the initiative and to provide the service for our female fans in the stadium, so we're more than happy to get involved. Football I suppose traditionally is very much, has been a male domain. Tallaght Stadium and Shamrock Rovers at Tallaght Stadium is very much a family experience, you know, male, female, adults kids... So, everything we can do to be as inclusive and to provide as much in a night out at a game, we'll do.”

The Bigger Picture

So it can be done. These products can be made available at a club or organisation’s discretion. But what about a wider movement? What about the legislation required in order for this to become commonplace in more than just stadiums? Back in March of this year, on International Women’s Day, a motion was brought forward by the womens’ caucus in the Oireachtas. Scotland, who became the first country in the world to pledge to provide free pads and tampons in schools, universities, colleges and all public amenities in the past 12 months, were the benchmark. Since what seemed to be a seminal moment in March, things have stalled somewhat here in Ireland. Independent Senator Lynn Ruane told SportsJOE that action, not talk, is what’s needed;

“I think the Minister (for Health, Simon Harris) means well, and I know he does care about these issues so... But I don't think we need a taskforce, I think all that's stopping us is a decision. I mean obviously we're at football grounds today and there's an onus that we're trying to get sports clubs or private sector to take on, in terms of, providing free sanitary products or access to sanitary products. But in terms of the state making a decision, I think there just needs to be a decision made that anywhere that is state-funded, especially in communities where you have a high amount of deprivation and the cost of sanitary products is so high and it's taxed and especially if you've more than one girl in the household, we just need to make the decision that we supply all those spaces with free sanitary products. I think it's more of a decision, I don't think it needs a taskforce. So I think we should move along quickly if someone just actually creates the policy and makes the move on it... I just think it's a will that's a barrier, just the will to actually do it.”

On The Baw also referenced the idea that sport can often still be a male-dominated arena, both in the stands and in the board rooms, and as a result men must play a vital role if these products are to become more common in stadiums, as Senator Ruane went on to explain;

“I think in the chamber I spoke about that day (International Women's Day), the fear you feel as a woman sometimes if you're in a meeting or, what happened me was I was in a press conference, and you get your period and you literally, you run from the room. I think it's because others haven't allowed us speak openly about our periods, we still think it's something to be ashamed of, and be embarrassed about. I think it's up to men to sit and be part of those conversations or to even just allow women freely and openly talk about periods without making some sort of quick comeback or comment or joke, you know? And I think if they just accept it as an everyday... I think where I train, thankfully, in KickStart Fitness we talk all the time. I don't know if people appreciate how difficult it is to hip thrust 120 kilos with a menstrual cup in! But it's a skill! It's something we begin to start speaking about and I think the men in the room and the trainers have just stepped back and allowed those conversations. And when we feel like we can have those conversations, maybe we'll feel less ashamed if we need to ask for help or we need to ask for sanitary products.”

Sport can often be a place where societal change can be reflected, and even begin. Even if the On The Baw movement in Ireland remains solely confined to sporting stadiums, creating these as female-friendly spaces can only encourage female participation in sports at all levels, as fans, spectators and in board rooms across the country.