'Are we talking about, you know, periods?' Menstrual cups alleviating money woes and empowering Northland women

A community programme offering Northland women free menstrual cups is alleviating financial stresses and making women feel empowered.

MyCup NZ's community partnership programme is putting an end to period poverty in Northland. Source: 1 NEWS

Hundreds of women in Northland have opted for menstrual cups in recent months as part of a programme combatting 'period poverty'.

Labour MP Willow-Jean Prime is a member of Tukau Legacy Fund, who along with her sister, Season-Mary Downs, are providing women and girls in Northland cheaper alternatives to mainstream sanitary products.

"One of the things that I know about my region and my local community in Northland is we have some of the lowest average incomes in the country," Ms Prime said.

"If they are struggling to buy food, then you must then know they would be struggling to pay $10, $20 a month for sanitary products and then you times that by more women and girls in the household."

Ms Prime said she didn’t truly understand the level of poverty until she visited a local school and was made aware of it.

"Some of the women buy sanitary products when they do have the money to store them for when they don't have money.

"There are some who were staying home from work and staying home from school at that time of the month, literally on the rag."

Determined to do something about 'period poverty' in her region Ms Prime along with her sister and the Tukau Legacy Fund started encouraging women in Kawakawa and Moerewa to use menstrual cups as an alternative sanitary product.

They partnered with social enterprise MyCup NZ, and with the help of donations have been able to provide more than 580 cups to women in their community.

MyCup NZ developed the cups two years ago and has been working with a buy-one-give-one model to supply community groups with menstrual cups in Northland, Whangarei, Waikato, and will soon do the same in Taranaki and Canterbury.

Founder of MyCup NZ, Kimberli Schuitman said she started the community partnership programme in August last year and "are just waiting for more people are New Zealand to get in contact with us and let us know who they are, so that we can get more cups out to people and just really get this going."

Not only is the programme alleviating financial stresses for many in the community, but it is breaking the stigma surrounding period talk.

Ms Prime says women have "found it liberating and empowering, refreshing to be able to talk about this and share it."

This is in part due to the education and support required for new users of menstrual cups.

"I think people found it quite shocking initially, it's like 'oh my gosh are we talking about, you know, periods?'"

"But people wanted to have that conversation, so we just started chatting about it and saying what our experiences of using it were, how you use it, fold it, insert it, take it out, and so on. And that just took down all those barriers."

Are menstrual cups the solution?

Menstrual cups are not a useful sanitary product for every woman due to individual preference, cultural, personal or religious beliefs.

But Ms Schuitman believes they're part of the solution and should be considered a mainstream sanitary product.

One menstrual cup can last for up to 10 years, saving a woman about $240 a year.

Ms Prime said the Tukau Legacy Fund have recently been contacted by Days for Girls, a charity that provides reusable pads for women in third world countries, who want to help combat period poverty in New Zealand.

Despite calls for cheaper sanitary products, they are not currently funded in New Zealand.

Pharmac yesterday revealed it had kicked out an application to subsidise women's sanitary products. Source: Breakfast

In April 2017, Pharmac said no to the application from a private citizen to reduce the cost of tampons and sanitary pads.

The Government-funded drug buying agency ruled sanitary products were not medicines or medical devices and said menstruation was not a normal function.

As a newly elected Member of Parliament, Ms Jean said she's interested in "other ways in which we can support the alleviation of period poverty".

"We have received correspondence around GST on sanitary products so I think that those are all valid conversations that we should be having."

"A lot believe that it's not one thing will fit all situations, it's a wide-ranging conversation that we need to have in terms of health, education, and family incomes."

Ms Schuitman believes sanitary products should be funded.

"It's a right for life, for women to go to work and go to school and not have to be inhibited by getting their period."