Period poverty campaigners delighted over $2.2 million Government Budget allocation

Campaigners say they're delighted about a $2.2 million Budget allocation to provide access to sanitary products in schools and kura, and they hope it'll come with health education too.

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It comes as a new study estimates 20,000 young New Zealanders are at risk of going without these essential products. Source: 1 NEWS

Minister for Women Julie-Anne Genter had promised there'd be an announcement about funding before the Budget and the Prime Minister said tackling period poverty was "personal priority" for her late last year, but no Budget announcement was made.

Public health researcher Sarah Donovan and Dignity NZ's Jacinta Gulasekharam were some of the researchers and campaigners who met with the Government earlier this year to make the case for funding. 

They say they were surprised and delighted to see details of the allocation in a Treasury document, and they hope members of the Positive Periods campaign can help advise officials on where the money could go.

A spokesperson from Education Minister Chris Hipkins' office says details about how the money will be spent haven't been worked out yet because of delays caused by Covid-19, and that the allocation still needs to be discussed with schools and suppliers.

Public Health Researcher Sarah Donovan (left) and Dignity NZ’s Jacinta Gulasekharam (right). Source: Supplied

1 NEWS first reported the issue of students missing school because of "period poverty"  in 2016. 

Campaigners say the Budget allocation is a win after years of struggling to get acknowledgment from the Government.

"I think for all the advocates and campaigners who've been working on this for so many years now trying to get the government to recognise it is an issue, it's exciting to get this over the line," Ms Donovan says.

"It's quite a modest amount, but it's a really fantastic starting point." 

The news comes at the same time as research released by KidsCan which estimates 20,000 primary, intermediate and secondary school students are at risk of "period poverty", meaning they are unable to or struggle to afford sanitary products.

The University of Otago report found that for students experiencing period poverty, there were "lifelong implications for their health, emotional development, education and career prospects".

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Researchers examined how period poverty relates to missed school. Source: 1 NEWS

Another KidsCan report by the University of Auckland found that along with supplying products, there should be educational resources committed to teaching students about menstruation.

The report found there "is a profound lack of knowledge around menstruation in some schools" from both students and staff, and that they need more support.

The report also recommended that because young New Zealanders are getting their periods at a younger age than previously thought, education needs to begin in primary school to inform and to reduce stigma.

KidsCan CEO Julie Chapman says the organisation has been trialling sanitary product sample kits with 4000 students across 100 schools. 

The sample kits included a range of products, educational material, discrete carry bags, and student ordering cards available in English and Te Reo Māori. 

Ms Chapman says the ordering cards were to reduce embarrassment around asking for supplies, and the measures resulted in a 300 per cent increase in product demand.

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Jacinda Ardern says she's working on 'ideas and solutions' to period poverty in NZ

"The more discreet the programme is and the easier it is to get products without having to verbalise it, the more they'll take up the programme," she says.

"We know that if they're not able to do that they just suffer in silence, that's not acceptable to us."

She also says education is critical, after students in the research reported that they didn't even know what periods were until they got them, and felt confused and embarrassed about the process and getting the products they needed.

"There is a lot of misunderstanding around the issue of periods and menstruation. The educational component is really important and that's something we'd really like to see in there."

Students at Wellington's He Huarahi Tamariki school for young parents get products supplied for free through charity Dignity NZ, but students 1 NEWS spoke to said at their former schools they would frequently miss class at "that time of the month" because they had no way to access products.

"In college I'd take however many days off school, sometimes it would be the whole week because we didn't have access to [menstrual products] at school, and I was too embarrassed to ask," student Tay Manuel says.

Dahlia Pereira, 21, says she's grateful to have products freely available after being through the worry of not having access to them and having to make alternatives with other materials.

"I think the worst part about not being able to afford it is having to try and make one yourself," she says. 

"It's so not good and it's not clean." 

Ms Pereira says for Pasifika, it can be a struggle to talk about such a personal issue with family.

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Dr Sue Bagshaw says female sanitary products should be subsidised, or a living wage instituted in NZ. Source: Breakfast

"Especially with my culture, it's a very private thing for women to talk about, it's not a very open subject."

Helena Wardle, 20, says she hopes education is provided along with products to avoid stigma and shame.

"I think it's really important to be taught in schools and talked about a bit more so women don't feel embarrassed about it," she says. 

"I have a daughter so I hope when she starts going to school and when she gets her period, I hope she'll have those products freely accessible to her."

Until the details of the Budget allocation are hashed out, charities are meeting the demand for students now heading back to school.

"The time to tackle this issue is now," Dignity NZ founder Jacinta Gulasekharam says.

"Next week we've got a 1000 boxes we're helping to support schools and community groups with, now more than ever, no matter what decile you're in, students need these products."