1 Nov 2018

Sanitary-product poverty keeping women homebound

3:22 pm on 1 November 2018

Nearly a third of women skip school or work when they have their period as they cannot afford sanitary products, a new survey has found.

Sanitary products.

Photo: 123rf

More than 5000 New Zealand women responded to the KidsCan online survey, which is thought to be the first of its kind.

The findings show more than half of respondents find it difficult to access sanitary items due to their cost.

It also shows one in three respondents have to prioritise buying other items, such as food, over sanitary products.

KidsCan founder Julie Chapman says women shouldn't be forced to choose between the two.

"When you're having to make a choice between putting food on the table, or buying pads or tampons, you know something is seriously wrong.

"This is poverty across the board. It's material hardship, it's families, women and girls struggling to pay for the basics," Ms Chapman said.

KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman

KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman Photo: Supplied / KidsCan

Last month data from the Ministry of Health survey was analysed by Otago University, which found that girls as young as eight are getting their period and almost half of all girls get their period before high school.

Ms Chapman said for many young girls getting their period can be embarrassing.

"If you can't afford those products that you need, the shame and stigma of that is incredibly difficult to deal with.

"We know that girls who come from really low income families, who are struggling, won't even ask their parents to provide those products for them because they just know the money isn't there," Ms Chapman said.

'You're wearing a rag'

Megan Chasland is a mother of three. She is studying full-time to become a teacher, so her family relies solely on her husband's income.

Every month she purchases sanitary items for her teenage daughter, but she said she cannot afford them for herself.

Instead Megan uses a set of rags which she washes so they can be reused.

"It's awful, it's awful having to wear a piece of old sheet in between your legs and you can't really do anything, like you can't go and sit around or go for a walk in the park or anything because you're wearing a rag,"

Being able to afford sanitary products is a luxury many people take for granted, she said.

"I seriously have to think about that and what we have to sacrifice to buy those items and that will be meat or butter or a litre of milk over two litres of milk," she said.

Mother of two, Melanie Gilligan has a similar story.

"I've just used rags, like one of those old cloth nappies and I've sort of folded it up at home," she said.

Ms Gilligan often stays home from work when she has her period as she doesn't have the money to purchase sanitary products.

When she can afford sanitary products she gives them to her daughter, she said.

"I've given her all of the pads, I'll stay at home because I don't want her to be ashamed of her body and all that. I feel she should be going to school and not staying home because it's that time of the month," she said.

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