From June, all students in New Zealand will be able to access free sanitary products including pads and tampons, following a successful pilot program across 15 schools.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said the free products will assist students in attending class — especially with research finding that one in 12 students were missing school due to period poverty, meaning they could not afford to access tampons and sanitary pads.
“Young people should not miss out on their education because of something that is a normal part of life for half the population,” Ardern said on making the announcement.
The move follows similar efforts across the world, including in some states in Australia and the United States, as well as in Scotland, which became the first country in the world to make period products free. Free period products are also now available in schools across England, following a roll out of a similar program in 2020.
The program is expected to cost NZ$25 million.
Ardern said on social media that the research they uncovered revealed the situation “wasn’t good enough.”
“Last year we decided that it wasn’t good enough that as many as one in twelve students were missing school because they couldn’t access period products, and we started a pilot project at schools like Fairfield College to see whether we could make a difference by providing products at school for free,” she said.
“Today, we announced that from June we’ll be rolling our free period products in primary, intermediates, secondary schools and kura across the country.
“There are enough barriers that our children and young people face as they grow up – access to period products shouldn’t be one of them!”
Considerable awareness has also been raised regarding the cost of period products in New Zealand, with Miranda Hitchings from Dignity NZ telling the New York Times that such products can cost as much as NZ$15,000 over a person’s lifetime.
Hitchings worked with a fellow student Jacinta Gulaskharem to found the not-for-profit, Dignity NZ, enabling businesses who subscribe to the organisation to pay for free tampons and pads for their staff, as well as young girls via a “buy one give one” model.
Dignity NZ noted the importance of the roll out of free period products in schools across social media, stating that: “For students, a lack of access to period products not only exacerbates feelings of shame and a gendered financial burden but has shown to increase absenteeism, creating long term education disadvantages for girls and menstruating people.”
They said that through four years of impact, they have seen how free period products reduce stigma and increase confidence for girls and women.
“It is incredible to think that the anxiety facing many young students who haven’t known if they will have products for their next period, now have certainty that from June supplies will be there for them.”
But they added that it’s important that the products are freely available, with students not having to specifically ask from them — enabling students to feel comfortable accessing and using them.
A 2020 study by QUT in partnership with Share the Dignity in Australia examined the extent of period poverty in Australia — finding that teachers were donating products to students, girls were using socks or rolled up toilet paper and that there is a lack of awareness among students about menstrual management and hygiene.
A 2017 US study found that one in five American girls aged 16 – 24 have either left school early or missed school entirely because they did not have access to period products.