New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has announced that all schools in the country will provide students with free period products for the next three years, starting from June.
The national initiative, which is expected to cost 25 million New Zealand dollars, will be available at all primary, intermediate and secondary schools.
This will add the country to the global effort to reduce “period poverty,” when people cannot access basic sanitary products when they need them. This can consequently affecting their education and directly impact their work opportunities. Period poverty may be due to a variety of factors, from poverty, homelessness, abusive relationships, some health conditions and being transgender.
People in New Zealand are estimated to spend as much as 15,000 New Zealand dollars ($10,800) on sanitary products over their lifetime, according to Dignity NZ, a for-profit organization that provides free sanitary items to schools and community organizations.
A study published last year by the KidsCan charity revealed that, despite being one of the world’s wealthiest nations, around 20,000 students in New Zealand were at risk of not being able to afford period products.
A University of Otago study also found that Maori and Pacific Island students are statistically more likely to be affected by poverty and thus less likely to be able to afford period products. 15% of Maori students and 14% of Pacific Islander students missing schools because they didn’t have menstrual products, the New York Times reported.
In more deprived parts of the country, school principals reported that students were resorting to using newspaper, toilet paper and phone books to manage their periods, the Guardian reported.
“One in 12 of our students possibly miss school because they don’t have access to period products,” Ardern said at Fairfield College in Hamilton on Tuesday Feb. 16, when she announced the initiative. That’s just not right and not in a country like New Zealand.”
“Young people should not miss out on their education because of something that is a normal part of life for half the population,” she said.
The move comes after a successful six-month pilot program involving 3,200 students across 15 schools in the Waikato region. The test phase showed participants responded positively, increased engagement at school, and improved educational outcomes. According to the Ministry of Education, schools also reported less stigma around periods.
“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 wellbeing,” Ardern said.