ACT News

Menstrual cups mooted as Nauru's asylum seekers suffer sanitary product restrictions

Signatories to the online petition 'Menstrual Cups for Nauru' are calling on the government to remedy concerns female asylum seekers are being denied adequate access to sanitary pads and tampons for security reasons.

In July a Senate inquiry into the conditions on Nauru heard evidence from former detention centre workers that women were made to routinely queue for hours and ask guards for the items, which were restricted to an 'as needs' basis after being flagged as a fire risk.

The Nauru detention centre in 2013 after rioting and fires destroyed much of it.
The Nauru detention centre in 2013 after rioting and fires destroyed much of it.  

The practice has been labelled "inhumane", "appalling" and a denial of vulnerable women's dignity by some of the more than 400 people that joined the petition created by freelance journalist Katie Milanowicz last Thursday.

Ms Milanowicz was astounded by the claims when she first heard them while working for Australian Greens senator Sarah Hanson-Young.

A petition is calling for menstrual cups to be issued to female asylum seekers at the Nauru Detention Centre.
A petition is calling for menstrual cups to be issued to female asylum seekers at the Nauru Detention Centre. Photo: Frank Krueger/Creative commons

While she has moved on in her career, she thought the taboo surrounding public conversations about women's reproductive rights had stifled wide-scale reaction to the claims had not left her.

"I always wondered why a bigger deal wasn't made of this and why more wasn't done," Ms Milanowicz said. "It's stripping people of their dignity."

The campaign for menstrual cups was as much about suggesting a practical solution as it was about reinvigorating debate and ensuring there was public pressure on immigration centres to uphold minimum standards.

"Women should not be made to feel ashamed about their bodies. If sanitary products are a fire risk, then I thought I'll put up the campaign and see whether other people thought menstrual cups were a potentially good idea," she said.

"Ultimately the best solution is for women to have access to all products so they can make a choice that's right for them."

The direct appeal, which Ms Milanowicz plans to present to Australia's Immigration and Border Protection minister Peter Dutton, was met with a swift rebuttal by the immigration department.

"Claims that access to feminine hygiene products has been restricted due to fire safety concerns are incorrect," a statement provided to The Canberra Times read.

"Feminine hygiene products are readily available with the RPC's canteen. The department and its service provider, Transfield Services, do not hold any fire, security or safety concerns regarding these products. Transfield Services is contractually obligated to ensure appropriate access to a range of feminine hygiene products."

Senator Sarah Hanson-Young said she had no connection to the online petition but reiterated anything that "improves the appalling condition for the women in the Nauru detention camps is welcome".

"The department has provided evidence this specific situation has been largely addressed," she said.

"There have been long running issues regarding access to appropriate medical care and sanitary products in Australian detention centres.

"Clearly the conditions for women and children on Nauru are unacceptable and it's time Malcolm Turnbull brought them back to Australia before more harm is done."