On Wednesday, the New Zealand prime minister Jacinda Arden has followed a suit with a commitment to end ‘period poverty’ by giving all school-going girls the access to free sanitary products and safe hygienic spaces.
She has rolled out ($2.2 million) budget which will begin distributing products at 15 schools in Waikato, a region of the upper North Island of the country. By 2021, the scheme will then extend nation-wide on an opt-in basis.
Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said that the sanitary supplies each month are not a luxury but a necessity. We know that nearly 95,000 girls aged 9 to 18 may be forced to take a week off from school every month and that hampers their education and impact negatively on their sense of worth. “When you don’t have access to basic human needs, through no fault of your own, that really impacts how you see yourself,” says Caro Atkinson, a counsellor at the He Huarahi Tamariki school in the New Zealand capital Wellington.
A 2018 KidsCan survey found that one-third of 15–17-year-old missed school because they didn’t have sanitary items. They reported using toilet paper, rags, old clothes, hay, ash, socks, and nappies when they could not afford tampons and pads.
Being able to access sanitary items discretely makes life a lot easier, said students who were part of the KidsCan survey. What is life for young women in low docile schools grappling with period poverty in their own words– “Every time we have our period, we’re paranoid it will leak through. ‘what do I do? Who do I tell? Who can I trust?’ I’d just walk home without telling my teacher. It was a pretty shame. I didn’t want to tell anyone.”
“If they’re right there in the toilets. It will be one less thing to worry about when I come to school.” “It’s a relief. It’s less embarrassing than to ask other girls for pads”. “It needs to be looked at more seriously. There’s a lot of families who can’t afford them. You just don’t talk about it. Too much shame. No one wants to be known that their families struggling, and they don’t like putting their struggle onto other people.”
“By making them freely available, we support these young people to continue learning at school,” Ardern said in a statement.
The Labour Coalition Government of New Zealand aims to halve child poverty in 10 years. The government feels that there is more to do and with families hit hard by the Covid-19 global pandemic. Anything that will make the “immediate difference” is a must to do.
The reason that New Zealand is taking these steps, is the same reason that most of the world ought to- to tackle period poverty.
Well, New Zealand is not alone. Last year, England announced it would provide free sanitary products to high school students, and in February, the Scottish parliament ensured free universal access to menstrual hygiene products.