Hundreds of thousands of packs of pads and tampons will be arriving in schools from Monday as the national rollout of the Government’s free period products scheme kicks off.
The four companies supplying the first few months of the rollout have been named, and three are Kiwi brands.
American corporation Kimberly-Clark won the tender alongside The Warehouse, Organic Initiative and Crimson Organic, a small company which started in the Mount Maunganui home of former youth lawyer Vicki Scott in 2018.
“I am absolutely ecstatic to be part of this history-making initiative,” Scott said.
“This is a very exciting and momentous occasion for human rights and therefore women’s rights in New Zealand. It’s a giant step towards gender equity in schools — and life.”
Associate Education Minister Jan Tinetti says there’ll be a re-tender after three months, once schools have had a chance to figure out what works for them.
“This is absolutely huge. We've got lots and lots of boxes here on pallets. We've got 750 schools that have ordered,” she said.
Tinetti says she saw period poverty first-hand when she was a principal at a decile 1 school in the Bay of Plenty. She believes funding products for all state-integrated primary, intermediate, secondary schools and kura is the solution.
“I had girls who were missing out on school every month because of their periods. It was something we worked hard to overcome. The youngest children I found in my time as a principal missing out were 6-year-olds. Periods happen to 50% of the population — this is a normal part of our life.”
Some schools have had a headstart on the scheme. Paeroa College was one of 15 Waikato schools selected to trial the products from term 3 last year.
Principal Amy Hacker says the scheme has already made a “significant” difference to attendance.
“Over the last two years, since 2019, attendance of girls has gone up by 10 per cent, attendance of boys has gone up two per cent. We have had the free lunches in schools in that period but because there's been such a large increase in attendance of girls, I'd have to say it's attributable to the period products,” Hacker said.
Hacker says she was surprised by how much of a boost there’s been in attendance.
“There’s less of a reason not to come to school. We’re a low decile school which means we have pockets of really extreme deprivation… I was really impressed to see it's making a difference and a statistically significant difference to young women.”
The Government says 1548 schools and kura have opted in, which represents 75 per cent of eligible female students. But that still leaves around 900 eligible schools which are yet to sign up.
Hacker has a theory for why that might be.
“Sixty per cent of secondary schools are still run by men… What I would suggest is that most schools that are run by women have bought into period products.”
Secondary Schools Association principal Vaughan Couillault says schools have had a lot on their plate in the last year, and more could be done to get the word out about the scheme.
“There’s lots on, sometimes things slip under other bits of paper… There's probably a little bit of work to do in that space but I know the people working in that space from the Ministry of Education have done a pretty good job of trying to get that message out,” he said.
Tinetti says she thinks some schools are waiting to see how the national rollout goes.
“There'll be an element of, ‘Let’s wait and see what this works out to be like.' They'll be looking at this and see how easy it's going to be for them.”
Tinetti says schools can still opt in to the programme, which will also include education around products and menstruation.
While just pads and tampons are being supplied for now, the Government’s not ruling out alternative reusable options in the future.
Tinetti says all-boys schools are also eligible, as gender-diverse students may still need access to period products.
“We need to be clear that this is for young people who menstruate,” she said.
Paeroa College students Charlotte McKenzie Jenner and Sarah Watson say they urge schools who haven’t signed up yet to do so.
“Those schools need to take advantage. It’s an awesome idea. It's incredible that we have the opportunity to get period products for free,” Watson said.
McKenzie-Jenner says students no longer have to make the choice “between buying food and having tampons”.
“I save money — that’s something I don't have to go to the supermarket and spend on what’s a necessity.”