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New campaign calling on Government to provide sanitary products in schools to combat period poverty


A new campaign has been launched urging the Government to provide period products in schools to combat period poverty, with the cost estimated to be from $4.5 million per year

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Dignity NZ, an organisaion that provides sanitary products to companies and then donates the equivalent to high schools around the country, and the New Zealand Union of Students' Associations costed the price to provide period products in all intermediate and secondary schools. 

The campaign, Positive Periods, found the cost of a "minimum intervention" - providing free organic pads and tampons determined by the decile rating of secondary and intermediate schools would be $4.5 million.

They found the cost of a "medium intervention" - the same model, but including all New Zealand primary schools and compulsory menstrual health education would be $6.9 million. 

The "maximum intervention" costing $11.7 million would see the same model as the medium intervention, but also provide menstrual cups and period underwear. Under this model 25 per cent of products provided would be reusable, estimated to lower costs in subsequent years and reduce disposal needs. 

The costs were provided in a discussion document given to the Government, asking for the provision of period products to be included in the Education Act and to provide students with choice of what products to use. 

It had previously been reported by TVNZ some families had kept girls home from school as they could not afford sanitary products, while others used newspaper or cardboard instead.

Dignity NZ's Jacinta Gulasekharam said it was a "duty to make sure no student misses out on school due to lack of access to period products".

Ms Gulasekharam said Dignity NZ was only a "band-aid" solution to the country's period poverty problems, and a large barrier to the implementation of a sanitary product scheme has been which Government ministry it would fall under. 

"We want to see some leadership from a Ministry in this space," Ms Gulasekharam said.

She said New Zealand "has always been a progressive country", and it was time it followed countries such as Scotland and England in providing youth with sanitary products in school. 

"When a menstruating individual can be expected to pay $15,000 towards sanitary items over their lifetime, it really is a question of fairness."

She said the costings were released as the public deserved to know how much it could cost to implement.

Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter told 1 NEWS period poverty was "an important issue for all of us, and we will consider the proposal with interest".

Julie Anne Genter Source: Supplied

She had asked the Ministry for Women to liaise with other Government agencies to make progress on the issue and to report back. 

"I hear from so many women and girls about period poverty, and the ongoing need for action."

NZUSA President James Ranstead, who is calling for the Government to provide for universal provision of sanitary items across all tertiary campuses met with Education Minister Chris Hipkins on June 13, saying the meeting was positive. NZUSA is striving for period products to be provided at tertiary institutions. 

"Free sanitary items in tertiary institutes alongside compulsory education is an absolute no-brainer. Providing sustainable, free sanitary items across the entire education sector would come in at approximately $15-$20 million per year, and much less if a less environmentally friendly option were chosen."

"This cost is minimal compared to the real cost of the lack of access," he said. It was estimated to cost from $1.1 million to $11.6 million for tertiary campuses. 

Public health researcher Dr Sarah Donovan of Otago University is currently lodging another application to Pharmac for the August deadline. In April, 2017, Pharmac rejected an application from a private citizen to reduce the cost of tampons and sanitary pads.

"It's excellent that Dignity NZ are making this direct approach for Government funding. The Pharmac application is about doing the auxiliary work of having menstruation formally recognised as a health need and recognising that menstrual management is a health and education equity issue for school girls and women," Dr Donovan said. 

She urged additional funding should also be allocated to go toward specific research on period pain. Despite it being one of the main reasons for missed school and work for those menstruating, currently there was no data collected in New Zealand.

"In addition to 'period poverty', period pain represents a really significant unrecognised health burden."

Period poverty

In 2016, TVNZ1's Seven Sharp investigated the issue of girls being kept home from school due to being unable to afford sanitary products. 

One Auckland budgeting service told Ms Hall over a few months he was aware of 10 families who kept their daughters at home. 

"There's a girl who's 16 years of age, at least one week of every four, she stays home because the family cannot afford them," Darryl Evans, from the Mangere Budgeting Service in Auckland said in 2016. 

In March 2017, National's Paula Bennett said she was "absolutely appalled that there might be girls whose education is being held up because they are embarrassed or they can't get access to what they really need". 

"I think there is a role to reduce the cost for some girls who are not getting access to quite frankly the education and health benefits that all New Zealanders should get."

In July, 2018, supermarket chain Countdown announced it would be dropping the price of some female sanitary products to fight "period poverty" for low income and disadvantaged Kiwi women.

Green MP Golriz Ghahraman called for the impact of period poverty to be treated as a Human Rights issue and for a Government response to the issue in August, 2018. 

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There have been reports of girls missing school due to not being able to afford sanitary items.

Human Rights Commission's Dr Jackie Blue told 1 NEWS women should not be facing preventable barriers and would be concerned "if young women are missing school because of a lack of access to sanitary products". 

KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman said in July, 2018, feedback from school nurses and principals revealed the lack of access to female sanitary products due to cost is a major problem, with some girls taking the contraceptive pill to stop their bleeding

A nationwide study on menstruation in October, 2019 found one in 16 of Kiwi girls get their period before leaving primary school.

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New research shows one in 16 girls has their first period in primary school – and some families can’t afford pads and tampons. Source: 1 NEWS

Data from the Minister of Health's NZ Health Survey was examined by University of Otago's Dr Sarah Donovan, who is now calling on Pharmac to fund sanitary products for all school-age girls.

The survey data showed that about 1900 Kiwi girls per year begin menstruating while still in primary school - some as young as nine - which is in line with a global trend of girls beginning menstruation at an earlier age.