Pressure mounting to fund sanitary products in schools and universities

Pressure is building on the Government to provide free sanitary items across the education system.

Newshub can reveal a new campaign called Positive Periods has proposed three policy changes that would help make it easier for school children to access the products.

Positive Periods
Photo credit: Newshub.

Jacinta Gulasekharam, the campaign lead and co-founder of Dignity NZ, told Newshub "period poverty" is happening, and all girls deserve access to the right products.

"It would have a massive impact if the Government took this up. We want to call this campaign 'Positive Periods' because we want every young person to have a positive experience with their periods and that means having access to the items they need - not having any embarrassment or stigma attached to what they're doing and having their periods with dignity."

Minister for Women and Associate Health Minister Julie-Anne Genter says the proposal will be looked into.

"I think it's a really important issue. I think it's fantastic they're looking into this work and finding solutions.

"The Government is looking at different models and certainly having discussions across different departments on how we can do something useful to address period poverty."

While Genter isn't promising any imminent change, she expects progress to be made.

"We most likely wouldn't see anything before next year's Budget. We'll have to ensure we have a robust plan that we know all of the ins and outs, all of the different costs and that its ready to pitch for next year's Budget," she said.

"It sounds like a really interesting proposal and I look forward to looking at it. Obviously Government departments have to look into the detail of any given proposal and we've just had a Budget announced. It will be something we'll be looking to progress before next year."

Gulasekharam says the Government needs to seriously consider these proposals.

"This is affecting young people's education, it's affecting how they feel when they're in the classroom and girls aren't able to go to school or participate in sports. It is serious and it's an easy fix."

A 2018 KidsCan survey found a quarter of New Zealand women who responded missed school or work because they have been unable to afford sanitary items.

It found 53 percent of respondents found it difficult to access sanitary items at some point due to cost. It also found that 29 percent of those under 17 admitted to skipping school or work due to a lack of access.

In July 2018, Countdown 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.

The New Zealand Union of Students' Associations wants the scheme to be extended to tertiary institutions too. President James Ranstead says the annual cost on top of schools would be around $15 million.

"It'll be massive if it happened in New Zealand, it would have a huge impact. We know the Government is about providing free condoms and items such as these. Providing sanitary items is about equality," he said.

"Period poverty is a huge issue in New Zealand, we'd like to see it solved in a big way in secondary and tertiary education. Tied up with the problem is the likes of shame, level of self esteem, and we also recognise nurse and teachers take money out of their own back pockets to fund sanitary items."

Gulasekharam supports the proposal: "If you're going to provide it in schools, tertiary education is definitely the next step."

Rest of the world

Scotland rolled out a scheme in 2018 offering free sanitary products in educational buildings.

In April 2019, Scottish Member of Parliament Monica Lennon introduced the Sanitary Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill which makes it a legal requirement for free access to sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities. It pledged £4 million ($7.7 million) to increase provisions in public buildings.

The UK government said this year it wants to provide period products in all compulsory education, including primary schools, secondary schools and colleges. The Department of Education will fund the move nationally.

The Welsh government announced in April a £2.3 million ($4.4 million) grant to allow all primary and secondary schools to have access to free sanitary products.