One of Raff Marioni’s major wins during his term as NUSU President was his dedication to ensuring the availability of free menstrual products for students at Newcastle University. In March, the Courier revealed that Marioni had secured funding and that Newcastle would be the first university in the UK to provide free sanitary products.
Previously, the Students’ Union has provided emergency packs for students in desperate need of sanitary products, but Marioni was voted in as President in March 2018 under his promise to increase sanitary provision so that it is available for free campus-wide rather than just in the Students’ Union building. This development is on target to be ready for the 2019/20 academic year beginning in September, and there will be eight locations on campus where menstrual products will be dispensed, including the Robinson Library, Sports Centre, Armstrong Building, and Marioni hopes the new Frederick Douglass Centre. Marioni estimates that provisions within the dispensers will be restocked once a month, but this should be adaptable to accommodate student use. He notes ‘the important thing to remember is that provisions are a supplement not a replacement’ when asked whether they were for use solely on campus, and explained that students ‘need to be mindful and respectful to the needs of other students.’
The initiative follows the Scottish government’s bid to tackle to period poverty by dedicating £9.2m to providing menstrual provisions in schools and universities, and the government’s promise to provide free sanitary products in all English secondary schools. There has been an increased debate surrounding the price of menstrual products in the last couple of years, with many calling on the ban of ‘the tampon tax’, that is, taxing sanitary items as ‘luxury’ items with a 5% VAT. Since 2001 the rate of tax has been at 5% which is the lowest possible amount under the European Union’s VAT rules.
Concerns about period poverty have led many student groups to take action, including Speech and Language Therapy Society, who were awarded Best Departmental Society as part of the Celebrating Success Awards in May. At a pub quiz hosted in November 2018, the society collected around 150 packs of sanitary products which were donated to the Red Box Project, which tackles period poverty by providing free sanitary products to schools.
Marioni’s work has helped widen the conversation surrounding period poverty in the university setting. The dispensers will help ease the cost of sanitary products for students and further the inclusivity of the University especially to its working class students. There is little left for incoming President Katie Smyth to do except for ensuring that the dispensers will be in operation in time for the students’ return in the next academic year.