Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said it was a step towards supporting young people to continue learning at school.
Editor's note: We are re-sharing some of the best moments and most important stories of 2020. Although it was a difficult year for nearly all of us, there were also shining moments of light and signs of hope. This was one of them.
In a landmark announcement, the government of New Zealand has affirmed that they will now provide free sanitary products in schools across the country as part of their effort to overcome period poverty. Period poverty is when a menstruating individual does not have access to period products, such as pads, tampons, or menstrual cups, which prevents them from attending school or going to work. While many may believe this is a phenomenon prevalent only in the "developing" world, this could not be further from the truth. A recent survey revealed that some women were using toilet paper, newspaper, or rags in place of more sanitary period products, The Daily Mail reports.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, who has been praised for her leadership during the pandemic, made the announcement. "We know that nearly 95,000 nine-to-18-year-olds may stay at home during their periods due to not being able to afford period products," she said. "By making them freely available, we support these young people to continue learning at school." The program to supply free period products will begin first in low socio-economic areas before being expanded to all state and state-integrated schools next year. The program is offered on an opt-in basis.
The issue was brought to the fore by period positivity campaigners, Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter shared. She explained, "Menstruation is a fact of life for half the population, and access to these products is a necessity, not a luxury. We want an Aotearoa New Zealand where all people have access to education and the things they need to live a good life - I am so pleased this Government is finding ways of helping children and young people, at a time when every extra bit of assistance is important." The roll-out has been announced amidst growing concerns that access to period products may become more scarce as a result of the pandemic.
The efforts are also part of a wider plan to tackle the issue of child poverty, the Prime Minister added. She said, "Our plan to halve child poverty in 10 years is making a difference but there is more to do and with families hit hard by the global pandemic, it's important to increase that support in the areas it can make an immediate difference." For advocates of reducing period poverty, the project is a huge win. School counselor Caro Atkinson, who works at He Huarahi Tamariki School, believed it would have an immense impact on a menstruator's overall self-confidence. She said, "When you, through no fault of your own, don’t have access to basic human needs, that really impacts how you see yourself, it erodes your sense of worth, your sense of self, your sense of mana.”
Others too believed this was a much-needed step forward. Miranda Hitchings, the co-founder of Dignity, an NGO that works to provide period products for those in need, claimed the initiative was "fantastic." Nonetheless, she added that there was still more work to be done. "It's a fantastic investment from our government," she stated. "However, this is just the beginning. Period poverty doesn't just affect students. It's a subset of poverty, and many other groups, like those experiencing homelessness and income loss, deeply feel the implications from a lack of access to products."