In an effort to acknowledge the necessity of equitable access to menstruation products, New Zealand is joining the growing global effort to make sanitary products free.
Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced Thursday that all schools will begin providing free menstrual products to students starting in June of this year, as part of the country’s larger initiative to tackle period poverty, according to the New York Times.
Period poverty refers to the lack of access to menstrual products, contributing to low school attendance and sanitary concerns for students who are unable to afford pads and tampons. During her announcement, Ardern acknowledged that 1 in 12 young people in New Zealand misses school because of period poverty.
“Young people should not miss out on their education because of something that is a normal part of life for half the population,” said Ardern, according to the Guardian. “Providing free period products at school is one way the government can directly address poverty, help increase school attendance, and make a positive impact on children’s well-being.”
The announcement today gives certainty to schools of when they can expect to have access to free period products from the government programme.— Dignity (@DignityNZ) February 18, 2021
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The decision comes after the success of the Access to Period Products pilot program, an initiative that introduced free menstrual products across 15 schools in the country’s Waikato region last year. Now, all schools in the country will have the opportunity to opt-in to the program as the Ministry of Education begins a nationwide rollout of free menstrual products.
With this announcement, New Zealand joins a larger trend of nations addressing period poverty around the world. In November of last year, Scotland became the first country to make sanitary products freely available to all who need them. Britain acknowledged that sanitary products are essential items when it abolished the tampon tax, a 5% value-added tax on sanitary pads and tampons, earlier this year.
Miranda Hitchings and Jacinta Gulasekharam, co-founders of period equity social enterprise Dignity NZ, first brought attention to period poverty in New Zealand in 2019 when they submitted a petition to the country’s parliament calling for free period products for all students.
With this latest announcement, Hitchings applauds the government for acknowledging how period poverty negatively impacts students, but says it’s only the first step.
“Period poverty doesn’t just affect students,” she told the Guardian. “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.”