One in four women can't afford sanitary items - survey

A new survey has exposed the extent of period poverty in New Zealand, revealing one in four women struggle to afford sanitary items. 

The KidsCan survey found that over half of women say the cost of sanitary products has been an issue, while just under a quarter say they've missed school or work due to a lack of access to sanitary wear. 

One in three respondents said they had to prioritise buying other items, such as food, over sanitary items. When they couldn't afford them, over half the respondents resorted to toilet paper, while 7 percent had used rags, and 3 percent used old cloth nappies. 

The results bring to light Manurewa MP Louisa Wall's comments earlier this year that women have resorted to dire measures to create makeshift sanitary items such as using socks or types of paper and torn sheets.  

The KidsCan survey collected responses from more than 5000 women across the country, to "understand the level of period poverty Kiwi girls and women are experiencing". 

KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman says the results "confirm concerns" raised by teachers and principals in New Zealand about the number of girls missing from school when they have their period. 

"As Kiwis, we pride ourselves on leading the way in gender equality. But this is a huge, hidden barrier to that," she said. "For girls in low income families, education is the best way out of hardship. But they're being denied that chance because they can't afford basic necessities like sanitary items." 

The survey was inspired by Scotland's world-first announcement in August that all students would receive free sanitary items. The plan aims to ensure that a lack of period products won't hinder students' education.

A study conducted by Women for Independence found that one in five women with periods in Scotland couldn't afford pads or tampons and resorted to using socks, toilet paper, or newspaper instead.

The Government's drug-buying agency, Pharmac, rejected a request to fund women's sanitary items in April last year as it believed the items weren't medicines. 

The issue of period poverty in New Zealand has prompted action from some companies in an attempt to make the products more affordable for women. 

In July, Countdown supermarket chain announced it would cut the cost of in-house sanitary items in a bid to tackle the problem. It dropped the price of its Homebrand regular liners by $1.50 and its Select regular tampons by 49 cents. 

Countdown's move to lower the price of the sanitary items is expected to save customers $750,000 a year.

In July 2016, Countdown, The Salvation Army and Ms Wall launched an initiative via The Foodbank Project to help stock Salvation Army food banks with sanitary products. 

KidsCan supplies schools nationwide with sanitary items to help remove any barriers to learning. This year the charity has supplied more than 16,000 boxes of tampons, pads and liners to hundreds of schools.