New Zealand Government Combats Period Poverty By Providing Free Sanitary Products to Schools

The New Zealand government is combating period poverty by providing free sanitary products in schools, according to the Ministry of Education. This announcement comes after a 2.6 million dollar investment by the government. The plan will be introduced in select schools around the country but is expected to reach every school in New Zealand by 2021.

The government hopes that this new initiative will create fewer barriers for people seeking education and healthcare. There is resistance towards addressing these issues because menstruation is considered a “taboo” topic. By following in the footsteps of other countries, New Zealand is setting an example that combating period poverty addresses poverty as a whole.

What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty occurs when people who menstruate can’t afford products like tampons and pads, hindering their ability to continue living a normal life while on their period. Currently, there is a “pink tax” on sanitary products like pads and tampons. Some say this tax is gender-based discrimination because it prevents low-income menstruators from accessing sanitary products, inhibiting them from going to school or work. In New Zealand, 95,000 girls between the ages of 9 and 18 stay home from school, and 1 in 12 girls missed school because of a lack of access to period products.

New Zealand is following in the footsteps of Scotland and England, who have also made plans to tackle period poverty through government initiatives such as universal access to period products through new laws and legislation. Worldwide, 2.3 billion people don’t have adequate access to sanitary products. This isn’t just an issue in developing countries, as many wealthy nations like the United States, the UK, and Australia also have high numbers of period poverty rates.

The New Zealand government is using this initiative as a catalyst for ending child poverty in their country. Through the work of Dignity New Zealand, a non-profit that aims to help provide sanitary products, the conversation of period poverty reached the spotlight before the government’s intervention. Dignity New Zealand commented that while the government’s steps are important, it is only the beginning of the fight to end poverty on all levels.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stated that the government is taking action because she wants to support kids in school. The ability of students to thrive in school is hindered if they have to miss several days out of each month because of their period. Ardern hopes that with this new ruling, period poverty will decrease and students will be more focused on their studies.

Education is necessary for ending the stigma surrounding menstruation. Lack of proper education about menstruation and hygiene can lead to various health problems and make women more vulnerable to violence and pregnancy complications as a result.

What Else is Necessary for Fighting Period Poverty?

Furthermore, alleviating period poverty goes beyond simply providing menstruation products. It also means providing adequate access to hygienic facilities, toilet paper, and proper education around proper health and hygiene practices.

New Zealand’s addressing period poverty as a means to alleviate poverty in their country highlights the ways in which global poverty can be addressed on a smaller scale. By providing free sanitary products in schools, New Zealand is setting an example for other countries to follow in order to destigmatize menstruation.

–  Xenia Gonikberg
Photo: Flickr

New Zealand, a Pacific island country known for its beautiful waters and unique wildlife, is more than just a tropical paradise. By a recent estimate, New Zealand has the 48th highest GDP per capita in the world. Plus, the average New Zealander leaves school when they are between 18 and 19 years old, whereas in many other countries children leave school before they reach the age of 12. New Zealand also puts a relatively high proportion (9%) of the overall government budget toward healthcare.

Though New Zealand is by no means an impoverished country, thousands of women still suffer from a lack of access to sanitary products. An estimated 95,000 young girls in New Zealand don’t go to school during their period because they don’t have access to the necessary sanitary products. However, the government is currently working to move closer toward New Zealand’s solution to period poverty.

New Zealand’s Sanitary Product Problem

A lack of access to safe sanitary products during menstruation is defined as period poverty. Studies have shown that across the globe, one in four women struggle to purchase the products necessary to deal with their menstruation. When women don’t have access to tampons and pads, it can lead to devastating situations. Some women are unable to work or leave the house, or are even shamed for what their bodies are going through. This makes education, employment and other aspects of life very difficult for women — for about a week every month.

In New Zealand, close to 12% of school-age girls between the ages of 12 and 18 have difficulty or are unable to purchase sanitary products. More than that, close to 10% of girls reported that they had skipped school because they didn’t have access to tampons or pads.

The Plan

The number of school-age girls who were missing out on educational opportunities due to their menstrual cycle led New Zealand’s prime minister to take steps towards eradicating period poverty. Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern declared that period products were not a luxury but in fact a necessity for female students. In light of this, New Zealand’s government is using NZ$2.6 million to help relieve period poverty. Eventually, New Zealand hopes to eradicate period poverty, but funds will first go toward making sanitary products free for girls in 15 New Zealand schools.

New Zealand’s Future

The hope for this government initiative is that it will lead to having free sanitary products in all state schools by 2021. While this would be a huge step toward New Zealand’s solution to period poverty, there is still a long way to go. Dignity, a local organization that focuses on women’s rights and access to sanitary products, has voiced its appreciation and support for the government’s efforts to support women’s access to menstrual products.

However, Dignity also pointed out that there is still work to be done. Women throughout the country need access to sanitary products, not just girls in primary and secondary schools. Moreover, Arden’s period poverty initiative is just one part of a plan that aims to halve childhood poverty in the next 10 years. While it may not address every aspect of period poverty or childhood poverty, New Zealand’s plan is moving the country one step closer toward eliminating period poverty.

Lucia Kenig-Ziesler
Photo: Flickr