period poverty in new ZealandOn February 18, 2021, New Zealand prime minister, Jacinda Ardern, and associate education minister, Jan Tinetti, announced that all schools in New Zealand will offer free menstrual products starting in June 2021, expanding on a pilot program that started in 2020. This announcement aligns with the country’s Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy and is a major step toward eliminating the barriers created by period poverty in New Zealand.

Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy

The New Zealand government’s Department of the Prime Minister and Cabinet (DPMC) launched the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy on August 29, 2019, with the vision of New Zealand becoming “the best place in the world for children and young people” to reach their full potential.

The six expected outcomes of this strategy are for children and young people to feel loved and safe, meet their material needs, be physically and mentally healthy, have access to education, receive acceptance for who they are and develop a sense of autonomy. These outcomes stem from the principle that children and young people are intrinsically valuable human beings with rights that must be respected. Furthermore, individuals and communities should act together as early as possible to promote the multifaceted well-being of children and young people.

Addressing Period Poverty in New Zealand

New Zealand’s free menstrual product program in schools aligns with the Child and Youth Wellbeing Strategy because period poverty is a significant barrier to a young person’s education. Prime Minister Ardern points to research showing that approximately one in 12 young people in New Zealand miss school because of being unable to manage their menstruation. Tinetti notes that many students who have their period while in school face embarrassment, stigma and discomfort and risk missing classes or not having the proper menstrual hygiene products.

Research from the New Zealand charity, KidsCan, found that up to 20,000 students at the primary, intermediate and secondary levels were at risk of period poverty. Globally, the COVID-19 pandemic highlights and exacerbates challenges associated with period poverty, including the lack of access to water, sanitation and hygiene (WASH) infrastructure and inadequate access to menstrual education as well as disrupted access to menstrual products.

The government’s new program expands on a pilot program that started in 2020 in which the government provided free menstrual products to more than 3,000 students in 15 schools in the Waikato region, located in northern New Zealand. Government officials used the feedback from the successful pilot program to inform its approach, with Tinetti noting that students wanted more information about the different kinds of menstrual products and how to manage their periods.

Other Period Poverty Programs

Private sector initiatives are also responding to period poverty in New Zealand by providing free menstrual products. For example, The Warehouse, one of the largest retailers in New Zealand, partnered with The Period Place to set up menstrual product donation boxes in several of its locations and provide free menstrual products in its store restrooms.

The Period Place is a New Zealand-based advocacy group whose vision is for New Zealand to be the first country to achieve period equity by 2030 in alignment with the Sustainable Development Goals.

Positive Periods is a coalition of 25 period poverty advocacy groups in New Zealand that advocate for the provision of free menstrual products in schools. In 2019, it released a discussion paper highlighting period poverty in New Zealand and its effect on educational outcomes. It also circulated a petition calling for free menstrual products in schools, which received more than 3,000 signatures.

The Road Ahead

Period poverty in New Zealand is an issue that affects the health and well-being of thousands of girls and women. The government’s free menstrual product program in schools is an important step toward ensuring that all girls and women can pursue an education and manage their menstruation with dignity.

Sydney Thiroux
Photo: Flickr

Period Poverty in New Zealand
On June 3, 2020, the parliamentary government of New Zealand announced an initiative designed to combat one of the most pervasive but least discussed forms of poverty across the globe; period poverty. The initiative will provide free sanitary products (tampons and pads) through a school-based program in order to alleviate period poverty in New Zealand. The investment will start small in the Waikato region, the 11th poorest region in New Zealand.

What is Period Poverty?

Period poverty exists in nearly every country across the globe, albeit to varying degrees. No matter the location, one could easily find an individual who is struggling to pay for proper sanitary products. One can define period poverty as a lack of access to sanitary products, menstrual hygiene education, toilets, handwashing facilities or proper waste management. Period poverty most commonly exists in developing but isolated nations.

Prime Minister Arden Answers the Call

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern brought the real facts of period poverty to the general public explaining how it affects the women and girls of not only New Zealand but also other countries across the globe. Expectations have determined that the government will roll out a NZ$2.6 million ($1.7 million) program providing free sanitary products through schools across the country. At first, the program will only exist in 15 schools in the Waikato district of New Zealand with plans to expand nationwide by 2021.

While New Zealand does not have a national index to measure the poverty levels of various communities, using a fixed-line analysis showed that roughly 15% of the total population of New Zealand lives in poverty. Similar to other products (unfortunately even medical ones), the price of sanitary products fluctuates fairly rapidly depending on the brand. On average the cost of a package of tampons in New Zealand is roughly NZ$5.50. With women typically having 480 periods throughout their lifetime, that brings the total long-term out-of-pocket cost to NZ$2,640 if the individual only buys Bargen tampons.

Eliminating Period Poverty in New Zealand

The New Zealand government believes that through this initiative, it can begin to cut childhood poverty by half in the next decade. In her speech on June 3, Prime Minister Ardern said that roughly 95,000 girls between the ages of 9-18 miss school and other activities due to a lack of access to proper sanitary products.

One of the perceived and anticipated effects of this program would be to allow children the opportunity to continue with their daily activities despite their period. Providing free sanitary products and education on menstrual health will do just that, all the while ensuring that individuals experiencing period poverty do not have to make homemade tampons and pads out of non-sanitary household items.

Period poverty may not seem like an issue that could possibly affect many people around the globe. However, when considering the data surrounding the situation, 2.3 billion people globally do not have access to clean water and sanitary products. When one throws the price of a single pack of tampons into the equation for countless families struggling to put food on the table, the question becomes whether or not the family in question will be able to eat. Unfortunately, the answer to this question is all too obvious.

Fortunately, New Zealand is not the only country that has put forth legislation to provide free sanitary products. Both England and Scotland have recently written legislation providing free sanitary products through schools. The New Zealand government and the U.K. and Scottish governments have made huge strides in the right direction to provide proper sanitary products to families, taking a direct swing at childhood poverty and the afflictions that come with living in that economic bracket.

– Craig Bahnsen
Photo: Flickr