Revealed: Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter's bid for period poverty funding failed

One in four women can't afford sanitary items, a recent survey found. Photo credit: Getty

The Government has failed to address period poverty in New Zealand, despite the Minister for Women lobbying ministerial colleagues. 

Documents obtained by Newshub under the Official Information Act show Julie Anne Genter lobbied Education Minister Chris Hipkins and Minister for Children Tracey Martin to tackle the topic.

It appears there may have even been a Budget bid for funding of sanitary items, but there was no cash for period poverty in Budget 2019.

That's despite official advice to the minister saying: "New Zealand girls' health and education is at risk due to the inaccessibility of affordable sanitary items, and that some girls are missing out on education because of this."

It also said on average, women have 480 periods, use 12,000 tampons or pads and spill 14 litres of blood during their lifetimes. 

Genter wrote to both ministers in March 2018 regarding access to sanitary items. The minister strongly recommended to Martin the Government's Kickstart Breakfast programme include "ongoing funding for sanitary items for young women in low decile schools". 

"We have identified the Kickstart programme as the most efficient way to ensure families with young women who cannot afford sanitary items can access them," Genter said.

"The Ministry [for Women] is happy to work alongside your advisors who are developing a Budget bid or undertake any work on your behalf, such as contacting companies producing sanitary items. The funding would definitely support the Government's focus on child poverty."

Genter raised the issue with the Education Minister.

"If there was an opportunity for girls to access low cost or free sanitary items in schools, I would be happy to endorse this, as well as the importance of bins to dispose of these items in primary and intermediate school bathrooms."

She also suggested the Education Review Office's guidelines on sexuality education "provide an opportunity for girls to learn more about cost effective and environmentally friendly options for sanitary items".

Julie Anne Genter.
Julie Anne Genter. Photo credit: The AM Show

But when Newshub put questions to the minister about the possibility of a failed Budget bid, Genter wouldn't confirm if there was one.

"I don't think we're meant to talk about Budget bids generally until we have something that has been decided on, so whether there was or wasn't. What happened is that we have been doing work for a while now because we know its an important issue.

"I'm not going to talk about Budget bids at all, but I am going to say the Government is really, really committed to delivering an outcome that means women and girls are not missing out on school, not missing out on work because they can't afford period products,'' she said.

The minister previously revealed to Newshub work is underway to pitch a proposal for Budget 2020.

Genter says a task force made up of different ministries are working together to develop solutions. She says it's important women and girls feel comfortable they can access the right support.

"We've been looking at where there are already services providing stuff to schools, KidsCan for example is in 300 schools that are low decile. We also need to consider things about the different needs of women at different times in their life and also looking at how we can make environmentally and financially sustainable."

The Positive Periods campaign put forward a proposal to the Minister urging the Government to provide free sanitary products in schools and menstrual health education. A petition has also been launched. 

Campaign lead and co-founder of Dignity NZ Jacinta Gulasekharam told Newshub it's positive the minister has tried to push for funding, but says the Government has been silent on the issue.

"There needs to be national action and strategy. We can see from overseas there's been sensible policies like in the UK, Wales and Scotland to have free provision of products within schools. So that's what needs to happen here." 

Gulasekharam says change needs to happen now.

"I think there's more that can be done. There are some small bits here and there like with KidsCan but there's still over 25 initiatives, Givealittle pages, our Positive Periods petition. There's a need out there and the more the Government does little things the more period poverty continues to exist.

"At the end of the day this is a health and wellbeing issue so we need leadership from the likes of Chris Hipkins as well to agree that New Zealand is going to be a country where we don't accept period poverty and we will do something about it."

The youth wing of the National Party, the Young Nats and the New Zealand Union of Students' Association have come out in support of the Positive Periods campaign.

National's social development spokesperson Louise Upston believes the Government's let the problem get bigger.

"We haven't actually seen any change, I think what the real issue is is there's an increased pressure on the cost of living. Women that were struggling before with paying for sanitary pads will be doing it even harder now. I think that's the real crime."

Upston says the bigger issue is funding where it's needed.

"There are a lot of girls that it's not a problem at all, their families are able to provide that and I think that's right. It's more of a concern for the households that can't.

"We need targeted support. KidsCan I'm sure is not the only charity that would be able to do this. Ministry of Social Development can and do fund it, it's about targeting support where it's needed most," she said.

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.