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New Zealand to offer free period products to all students

The scheme is expected to help 20,000 New Zealand students who are at risk of not being able to afford tampons or other products.

New Zealand to offer free period products to all students
Image Source: Getty Images/ Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern Gives COVID-19 Update. (Photo by Hagen Hopkins)

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday that all schools would offer free period products to their students starting in the month of June, The New York Times reports. The initiative is intended to reduce period poverty, that is, the poverty trap menstruators find themselves in when they are unable to access safe and affordable period products. The scheme has been praised as "a great first step." Period products will be offered to students in primary, intermediate, and secondary schools, and the program is expected to cost 25 million New Zealand dollars, about $17.96 million.




Prime Minister Ardern affirmed in her announcement, "Young people should not miss out on their education because of something that is a normal part of life for half the population." The New Zealand government launches the scheme after a six-month pilot program involving 3,200 students across 15 schools in the country’s Waikato region. The country is the second to implement such a program, following closely behind Scotland which announced a similar initiative last November.




The scheme is particularly notable as it would help address the wealth gaps in New Zealand. Although the nation is one of the world's wealthiest, 20,000 New Zealand students were at risk of not being able to afford tampons or other products, a study conducted last year by the charity KidsCan found. Dr. Sarah Donovan, a researcher from the University of Otago, noted that low wages, high costs of living, housing shortages meant thousands of menstruators simply could not afford sanitary items. "Kids aren’t going to go to school if they haven’t got menstrual products, because it’s so shameful and embarrassing—there’s still this big stigma around it," she explained. "It’s been this hidden problem of social inequity that no one had thought of." She acknowledged that providing free period products was a good place to start, but schools must teach students "what a period is, how do you manage them."




In New Zealand, period poverty affects children from primary school onwards. On average, children begin menstruating at the age of 13, but some can start as young as eight or nine-years-old. Dr. Donovan stated, "If it’s going to be primary school and above, some of the kids wouldn’t have had the health education around that stuff yet, either at home or at school." Period poverty also disproportionately affects marginalized communities, such as New Zealand’s Maori and Pacific Island immigrant communities, a study led by the researcher found. The research concluded that 15 percent of Maori students and 14 percent of Pacific students have missed school because they did not have menstrual items.




Furthermore, period products are expensive: they can cost as much as 15,000 New Zealand dollars, or $10,800, over a person’s lifetime, Miranda Hitchings, co-founder of Dignity NZ, noted. Dignity NZ is a for-profit organization that provides free sanitary items to schools, youth, and community organizations. Hitchings stated, "That is a significant cost that could be part of a student loan or a house deposit. But because of the gendered cyclical nature of poverty, it’s another thing that puts women, or people with periods, on the back foot."




When she surveyed schools about period poverty, she found that there was little awareness of the problem despite how pervasive it is. "We went and talked to schools and found that not only was it real, but it was incredibly prevalent," the co-founder stated. "We also found that local people individually, like nurses and teachers at schools, were purchasing products for their students out of their own pockets." The global health crisis has only worsened period poverty outcomes. Hitchings's campaign to offer free period products in schools was one of the main drivers behind the recent announcement. The call was picked up by the office of Julie Anne Genter of the Green Party, the then-Minister for Women. She praised, “It’s great progress and a great first step."



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