Today, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden announced that all schools will make free menstrual products available to students for the next three years in an effort to alleviate period poverty, the lack of access to menstrual products that negatively affects employment, education, and health.
Arden’s announcement follows a six-month pilot program which involved 3,200 students in 15 schools across the country’s Waikato region. The official program will launch in June and will provide menstrual products to students in primary, intermediate, and secondary schools.
“Young people should not miss out on their education because of something that is a normal part of life for half the population,” said Ardern in a statement. “Removing barriers to healthy, active, educational outcomes for children and young people is an important part of the Government’s Youth and Wellbeing Strategy.”
One survey found 12% of adolescent students (year 9 to year 13) who menstruate reported having difficulty accessing menstrual products, and an estimated one in 12 students reported skipping school because they couldn’t afford products.
According to Sarah Donovan, a researcher from the University of Otago, the country’s high cost of living combined with an increasing housing shortage has led to a crisis where many in New Zealand cannot afford sanitary items. Over a lifetime, menstrual products can cost over $10,000 American dollars.
“That is a significant cost that could be part of a student loan, or a house deposit,” said Miranda Hitchings, co-founder of Dignity NZ, an organization providing menstrual products to schools and community organizations. “But because of the gendered cyclical nature of poverty, it’s another thing that puts women, or people with periods, on the back foot.”
“We went and talked to schools and found that not only was it real, but it was incredibly prevalent,” she said. “We also found that local people individually, like nurses and teachers at schools, were purchasing products for their students out of their own pockets.” Providing students with free products will alleviate the financial burden placed on individuals and communities.
Sources: New York Times 2/18/21; CBS News 2/18/21; New Zealand Government 2/18/21; The Guardian 2/17/21