27 September 2023

Jacinda Ardern announces free sanitary products for all schoolgirls

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Jessie Tu* says New Zealand is taking steps to end ‘period poverty’.

In February this year, Scotland became the first country to pass a Bill to ensure sanitary products are free for all women.

Two years prior, it had become the first country to provide free sanitary products to students at schools, colleges and universities.

New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern (pictured) has followed suit with a commitment to end “period poverty” by giving all school-aged people who have periods free sanitary products.

Access to sanitary products and to safe, hygienic spaces in which to use them is not equally distributed.

Ardern wants that to change.

“By making them freely available, we support these young people to continue learning at school,” she said yesterday.

“We know that nearly 95,000 nine-to-eighteen year olds may stay at home during their periods due to not being able to afford period products.”

In the UK, the latest research from Full Fact revealed that 27 per cent of women and girls responding to the survey said they couldn’t afford menstrual products.

A KidsCan survey in 2018 revealed that one third of 15–17-year-old respondents said they had missed school because they didn’t have sanitary items.

In NZ, as in many places around the world, some women must choose between spending their money on food or buying sanitary items.

Arderns plans to launch the scheme that will change these horrifying realities by providing students with sanitary products.

The scheme is part of a $2.2 million budget roll out and which will begin distributing products at 15 schools in Waikato, a region of the upper North Island of the country, in Term 3.

The rest of the country’s State and State-integrated schools will have the chance to opt into the scheme by early next year.

New Zealand’s Minister for Women, Julie Anne Genter, told SBS that the financial demands placed on those who require sanitary products could be “prohibitive” for some people and may cause further difficulties and challenges for those without the means to purchase them.

“Menstruation is a fact of life for half the population and access to these products is a necessity, not a luxury,” she said.

Earlier this year, Dr Theresa Fleming, a youth health professor at Victoria University of Wellington published a survey of 7,700 students which found more than 21 per cent had missed school because they could not access sanitary products.

“That is a big deal in terms of educational equity and chances for young people today”, she told 1 News.

“It’s a really difficult thing for teachers, it’s really difficult for schools and that’s going to really be holding those girls back.”

In Australia, Victoria is the only State that has implemented a similar program.

In September last year, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced a $20.7 million funding package over four years, which will go into providing free sanitary pads and tampons across all Government schools.

“Lack of easy access to sanitary items can negatively impact on students’ participation in sport and everyday school activities,” a statement on Premier Andrew’s official Government website announced.

“Students may not be able to concentrate in class, feel comfortable or confident doing physical activity, or they may miss school altogether.”

*Jessie Tu is a journalist with Women’s Agenda

This article first appeared at womensagenda.com.au

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