Period poverty campaigners disappointed by delay to Government's rollout of free products for students

Period poverty campaigners say they’re disappointed about a delay to the Government’s rollout of free period products for students.

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A rollout to schools is expected to go ahead next year but there’s been a delay. Source: 1 NEWS

In June, the Government announced it would be providing free period products to all state and state-integrated schools.

Currently 15 schools and kura in the Waikato are trialling the programme, which was supposed to be extended to all Waikato schools in Term 1 next year, and then to schools in the rest of the country, on an opt-in basis.

That extension has now been pushed back to Term 2. The organisation whose petition kick-started the Government’s rollout says it’s frustrating.

“Let the schools know about what’s promised and what’s happening, because people are still facing period poverty while we're waiting for decisions to be made” Dignity NZ’s Jacinta Gulasekharam said.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern says she’s still delivering on her promise to get products in schools next year.

“Covid of course did make some of our roll out across the country a little more difficult but as I say we're still meeting our goal of having the whole country with schools opting in from next year.”

Former women’s minister Julie Anne Genter, who met with campaigners last year, says the hold-up is “disappointing”.

“It is disappointing but of course with the Covid disruptions you can understand that it might take a little bit longer than what we would like.”

The Prime Minister has said tackling period poverty is a “personal priority” for her, but the Ministry of Education is responsible for the logistics of the rollout.

The ministry’s deputy secretary of enablement & support, Katrina Casey, said the cause of the delay wasn’t Covid, but consultation with students.

“To ensure the voices of ākonga [students] from this first phase are heard, including their preferences on product type and delivery, we are extending the current phase to the end of Term 1, 2021. We expect to start the tender process in Term 1, 2021 and envisage that suppliers will be in place by the end of that term for the wider rollout.”

Dignity NZ’s Miranda Hitchings said that means organisations like theirs and charities will have to provide products to schools for longer.

“[Demand] is really high, it’s gone up significantly since Covid. It has been a real struggle for us to meet demand. It would have been great if the Government had rolled it out quicker.”

Documents obtained by 1 NEWS show Asaleo Care, the manufacturers of Libra products wrote to the Prime Minister last October about providing products to students, after winning the bid to provide products to schools in the Australian state of Victoria.

“Our manufacturing expertise and distribution capability through our well-established Business-to-Business operations across Australia and New Zealand meant Asaleo Care was well positioned to support the Victorian government.”

“I am writing to you to inquire if the New Zealand Government has any intention to undertake a similar initiative. If so, we would welcome the opportunity to speak with you or representatives of your Government and discuss how we can assist.”

Gulasekharam says she hopes the tender won’t go to an overseas company.

“I think what's important with that tender is to have the provision of a range of products and also to really focus on New Zealand companies because they understand what’s happening on the ground here and we need to be supporting local.”

While campaigners and charities wait for the school rollout to go ahead, there are hopes New Zealand will eventually follow Scotland’s lead and make period products accessible to all who need them.

The Scottish Parliament voted unanimously in favour of the Period Products Bill this week, making it the first country to allow free and universal access to menstrual products in public facilities.

Hitchings said that’s what New Zealand should be aiming for.

“The Scotland announcement shows that period products are like toilet paper, we wouldn’t ask people on low incomes not to use toilet paper.”

“I think it’s a solution for inequity that’s reasonably cheap and achievable.”

Sophie Lake of The Wellington Women’s House agrees. The organisation provides free products through its charity partners.

“We often see people with periods who are on low incomes or who are in transition who definitely need that free support and those products should be available for everyone.”