An easy fix for Period Poverty

Access to education should not be determined by a child’s gender, yet almost a quarter of New Zealand women, according to a KidsCan survey, have missed school or work because they have been unable to afford sanitary items.

The onset of menstruation is a key pressure point for girls’ schooling. No access to sanitary products, teasing from classmates, unsupportive teachers – all can disrupt a girl’s ability to participate in school. There is pain, shame, fear, and embarrassment.

The importance of girls being able to fully participate in schooling cannot be overstated. That they might have the chance of a healthier and happier life should be reason enough for promoting girls' education. However, there are also important benefits for society as a whole. According to Unicef, giving girls access to schooling is a central part of tackling poverty.

Girls everywhere face barriers to education, many of them deep-rooted systemic and cultural barriers, like gender violence and discrimination. Period poverty, in Aotearoa New Zealand at least, could be solved quickly and easily with the government fully funding sanitary products in schools.

After coming up with a robust and evidenced-based scheme, the Scottish government funded free sanitary products for students at schools, colleges and universities in August last year. In March, the UK government announced it is set to take measures to ensure sanitary products are free across all schools in England. The governments of Wales and BC, Canada made similar announcements last month.

Providing free sanitary products to students attending schools supports the equality, dignity and rights for those who menstruate and ensures that lack of access to products doesn’t impact on a student’s ability to fully participate in education at all levels. It will also save students (and their families) money and help to reduce stigma and anxiety associated with periods.

The anecdotal evidence coming out of the scheme in Scotland is saying is that free sanitary products helps students become much more open, communicative, and positive about menstruation. Providing free sanitary products also sends a strong message to all students that menstruation is nothing to be ashamed of.

Currently in New Zealand there are organisations and charities working to provide girls and women necessary sanitary products at schools throughout NZ. They all do this in differing ways, mostly buy one, give one schemes or collecting and distributing product donations. A great many schools throughout NZ, mostly low decile, are benefiting from these initiatives. Dignity NZ, The Period Place and SPINZ are threeorganisations that are vocal in their support and part of a growing movement urging the government to fund free sanitary products in all NZ schools. Co-Founder and General Manager of Dignity NZ, Jacinta Gulasekharam, says:

"Dignity shouldn't exist at all ... but we'd rather exist for now and fill a purpose while a better solution is made for the longer term.”

KidsCan is the biggest player in the field, running a nationwide system to supply schools. CEO Julie Chapman has said she would be happy to partner with the Government to bring in a similar scheme to what Scotland has. They already have the supplier relationships in place and the nationwide distribution network to make it work.

What we need is the political will and public support to make this change. Who’s with us?

Other solutions:

Among all the elements of addressing period poverty, the following also have the potential to accelerate progress toward eradicating this barrier to girls and women’s achievement:

  • PHARMAC subsidises cost of sanitary products
  • GST removed from sanitary products
  • Period education aka Menstrual Health Management (MHM)