“By making them freely available, we support these young people to continue learning at school,” Ardern said.
The New Zealand government is investing NZ$2.6 million ($1.7 million) in the initiative, which will be first rolled out at 15 schools in the Waikato region of the country’s North Island during term three of this year. The program will then expand nationwide to all state schools by 2021.
A health and well-being survey from New Zealand-based Youth19 found 12% of students in Year 9 to 13 (ages 12 to 18) who menstruate reported difficulty accessing sanitary products due to affordability. And around one in 12 students reported having missed school due to lack of access to sanitary products.
“Menstruation is a fact of life for half the population and access to these products is a necessity, not a luxury,” said New Zealand’s Minister for Women, Julie Anne Genter.
“When you, through no fault of your own, don’t have access to basic human needs, that really impacts how you see yourself, it erodes your sense of worth, your sense of self, your sense of mana (essence or spiritual power in Maori),” Caro Atkinson, a counsellor at the He Huarahi Tamariki school in the New Zealand capital Wellington, said in a statement.
Ardern said that the initiative is part of a wider effort to reduce child poverty in the country.
“Our plan to halve child poverty in 10 years is making a difference but there is more to do and with families hit hard by the Covid-19 global pandemic, it’s important to increase that support in the areas it can make an immediate difference,” she said.
Dignity, an NGO that works to provide period products for those in need, said it was “ecstatic with the government’s commitment” but that this was just the start to eradicating period poverty.
“It’s a fantastic investment from our government. However, this is just the beginning. Period poverty doesn’t just affect students. It’s a subset of poverty, and many other groups, like those experiencing homelessness and income loss, deeply feel the implications from a lack of access to products,” said Dignity co-founder Miranda Hitchings.