Period poverty campaigners are celebrating the news period products will be free in state schools and kura from mid-year, and they’re hoping the school roll-out is just the beginning.
Products like pads and tampons are set to be provided to primary through to high school students from the end of June, it'll cost $25 million to fund them until 2024.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says the programme is the Government’s way of preventing product access from affecting school attendance.
“We have one in 12 students who are potentially missing school as a result of something 50% of our population experiences.”
The national roll-out will work on an opt-in basis, with schools encouraged to register their interest before the end of March. Ardern says the Government is prepared for a “full uptake”.
“We've put aside enough in the budget to cater for any basically any school that could put their hand up. We expect we might have some schools that will opt-in very early and some who may opt-in a little bit later.”
It follows a trial period at 15 Waikato schools, including Fairfield College, where the Prime Minister launched the programme today.
Fairfield College has vending machines for products, but the delivery method for the rest of the country will depend on which providers win the tender process, which will start in June.
The funding will provide for pads and tampons initially, other products like as eco-friendly options will be considered once the national roll-out's underway.
School nurse Shelley Bowe says the programme has “been huge” for the school, and the vending machines, located in school bathrooms has been popular.
“It’s almost a weekly basis I’m getting an email to say its low stock and going in and stocking it up again so it's obviously going well.”
She says students have skipped school in the past during their period.
“Some students it’s because they ration their pads or tampons and so they’re scared they’re going to leak through so they just don’t want to be at school if that happens. Some they just don’t have products and they literally use rags, I do know of a few students that wash their rags and then re-use them.”
Student Layia West says she has struggled to access products in the past.
“With my parents when they were going through a rough patch with money it was a bit of a struggle, and dad didn't know what type to get or anything.”
She says she’s noticed improvement in attendance with her peers since the programme started.
“I’ve noticed a lot more girls showing up more regularly when they've had that option.”
Women’s minister Jan Tinetti says the Government is “refreshing the curriculum” to ensure education around menstruation is provided alongside products, at the request of students who took part in the trial.
University of Otago public health researcher Sarah Donovan says she hopes that part of the programme will be mandatory.
“It’s the [education] ministry’s position that it’s up to individual schools what health education is provide. That sort of leaves the question about some school boards deciding not to offer this, with the potential of these pupils missing out," Donovan says.
“We can't necessarily rely on parents in the home to educate and support kids about their first period and tell them what to do about it. Partly because some families are not realising that period can come at such an early age and also there’s cultural reasons and shame and embarrassment. If we’re going to have a programme like this in schools, they have to be a one-stop shop to provide education about menstrual management alongside these items.”
The announcement comes as charity The Period Place has released new data from a survey of 1000 New Zealanders, it found 73% of Kiwis believe access to period products is a human right, and 57% considered period poverty to be a big issue in New Zealand.
CEO Danika Revell says she’s glad to see the programme is “finally coming”, after the roll-out was pushed back by a term last year.
“I think the time frame of June this year for some people it’s later than they would have hoped but the fact [the government] have dotted all their I’s and crossed t’s beforehand, we support that.”
She says she wants to see free period products for all Kiwis who need them, including students outside of school hours.
“It’s not fair to say to a child, ‘we can provide period products from 9-3 so wake up, put some socks in your underwear and we'll give you a pad at 9am. We think the government has heard that from us.”
Last year Scotland became the first country in the world to make period products free for "anyone who needs them" through local councils.
“Menstruators sacrifice for their family, they sacrifice their health, their wellbeing, their future economic opportunities for the sake of their whanau, and that's got to stop.”