24 Jun 2019

Campaign calls for free sanitary items nationwide in schools

7:46 pm on 24 June 2019

Campaigners against period poverty are calling on the government to offer free sanitary items in all schools at a cost of more than $11 million a year.

Sanitary products.

Photo: 123rf

The Union of Students' Associations has launched the Positive Periods campaign pushing for menstrual education and products to be available in every primary, secondary and intermediate school, with support from Dignity - a company that offers free sanitary products.

The UK has already moved to provide free sanitary products in all schools.

Positive Periods campaign lead Jacinta Gulasekharam said it was time New Zealand followed in its footsteps.

"We've watched overseas the best policy practices and our preferred recommendation actually includes 25 percent of reusable items as well - so, that being menstrual cups and period underwear - because we do acknowledge the impact of sanitary items on the environment."

The preferred option would cost $11.733 million in the first year to provide comprehensive menstruation education and sanitary products - including the reusable options - in all schools from primary through to secondary.

However, the cost would reduce by 25 percent the following year, as the reusable items can be used for up to five years.

A second option, at $6.879m a year, would not include the eco-friendly products while a third proposal at $4.468m would only target intermediate and secondary schools.

University of Otago public health researcher Sarah Donovan said that because nearly 2000 girls got their period at primary school, any policy must include them.

"Primary school girls are the least able to manage their periods in a sense - they're not financially independent, they are totally reliant on other people to provide these materials for them - so if that isn't happening and their family isn't doing it or can't afford to do it, the state could have a role there"

She said the first step needed to be reframing periods as an equity issue, rather than a matter of hygiene.

"It's a basic health need, in the sense that if you're not able to do that, psychologically of course it's going to be a very stressful experience for you and actually educationally if you're missing school for that reason, that's also an equity problem".

She also wanted funding for dedicated research into the extent of period poverty.

A KidsCan survey last year found that almost a quarter of women and girls missed school or work because they could not afford sanitary items.

The Positive Period proposal has been presented to the Education Minister, Chris Hipkins, who has passed it on the Minister for Women, Julie Anne Genter.

Ms Genter said the Ministry for Women was exploring policy and funding options.

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