Period poverty is real. Period.
And it's happening in Aotearoa New Zealand.
Women and girls are resorting to stuffing rags, toilet paper, nappies and socks in their underwear, because they and their families can’t afford menstrual products. Or even if they do have some sanitary products, they use tampons and pads longer than is hygienic. And when these dangerous and uncomfortable options don’t work, they are forced to stay home from work and school out of shame and discomfort, losing days of earnings and education.
The annual Youth19 NZ research showed that of the 7700 young people with periods surveyed:
- 13% said they found it difficult to get menstrual products
- that figure was closer to 20% for Māori and Pacific people
- 10% said that they had missed school because of periods.
72% of New Zealand schools said they believed that having free period products available would help their students stay in school when they had their period.
KidsCan's 2018 survey of 5000 women and girls in New Zealand found that:
1. 53 % had found it difficult to afford sanitary items at some point, and 30% said they had to prioritise buying other items like food, over sanitary items
2. 23% had missed school or work due to lack of sanitary care
3. 29% of under 17 year olds had missed school due to lack of sanitary care
Periods are starting earlier. The University of Otago revealed that 6% girls now start their period before college - so very young girls are facing shame, stress and impacted education.
Periods are expensive - Kiwi women spend almost $16,000 in their lifetime on period care products. Period Poverty is a brutal reality in New Zealand, right now. Poverty is huge to deal with, without worrying about how you’re going to afford menstrual products. Enough is enough.
AWWA's commitment to combat period poverty
AWWA was created with a passionate commitment to fighting Period Poverty in New Zealand. We are part of a global movement to end period poverty and to ensure that all girls and women have access to menstrual products.
Not only is Period Poverty a huge personal burden, but it has a direct impact on both Child Poverty and Gender Inequality among our most vulnerable.
Ways AWWA is taking direct action to combat Period Poverty include:
- In our first two years we will have donated over 1500 of pairs of period underwear to schools and charities.
- We support Dignity in an official partnership working to bring waste-free period care to our most vulnerable students throughout New Zealand
- We support Nest Consulting with discounted AWWA underwear for teens in their period starter packs
- We’ve taken our belief that all New Zealand schoolgirls should have access to free, reusable period products to Parliament with meetings with Ministers and submitted a petition with the Positive Periods group, formed to lobby for Political change and urge the government to make period products accessible to all students.
Let’s end period poverty together.
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Your support will help us donate beautiful, reusable, period-proof AWWA underwear to wahine in need in Aotearoa New Zealand. It's easy to make a difference.
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A global perspective on Period Poverty
Worldwide, Period Poverty affects countless women and girls - both in developing countries and wealthy nations. As well as emotional and health risks, period poverty is a barrier to education and financial security, and is becoming recognised as a major factor in perpetuating global gender inequality.
UN estimates suggest that one in 10 African schoolgirls skip school during menstruation or drops out entirely due to a lack of clean and private sanitation facilities. India's Ministry of Health reports that only 12% of menstruators have access to sanitary products, leaving the rest to use unsafe materials.
In wealthy countries like England, New Zealand and Scotland, we also see figures showing that a quarter of women and girls report that they have had to miss school or work due to being unable to access period products. This is first-world period poverty.
As well as financial strain, period poverty impacts women and girls emotionally, taking a toll in stress, shame and self confidence. Another dangerous effect of period poverty is the unhygienic measures women go to 'to get through' their period - using socks, re-using pads, leaving tampons in too long or simply having to stay home in stained clothing. The fact that even in 'developed' countries, hundreds of thousands of women and girls are facing this reality is shocking in the deepest sense.
Legislation for change is combating Period Poverty
Scotland, British Columbia, Wales and England provide free period care in schools to fight period poverty.
In August 2018, Scotland became the first country in the world to provide free sanitary products in schools, colleges and universities, with a revolutionary £5.2M programme. The government also launched a £500,000 scheme to help women from low income households to access free sanitary products in their communities.
The Period Products (Free Provision) (Scotland) Bill passed (unanimously, with one abstention) through the first of three stages in the Scottish Parliament in February 2020 - this bill will legislate free period products for anyone who needs them if it passes the next two readings.
From September 2019, the UK Government legislated the provision of free sanitary products in secondary schools and colleges in England as part of a cross-government push on eliminating period poverty. It comes after pressure from doctors led to the NHS agreed to make tampons and sanitary towels available to patients.
Wales provides free sanitary products in both primary and secondary schools.
British Columbia has also ordered public schools to provide free menstrual products for students in school washrooms. The BC government had also ditched tax on sanitary products in 2015.
Now it's our turn New Zealand!
What Kiwi women are saying about Period Poverty
"Desperate measures like using rags, socks, or rolled up toilet paper, or reusing pads after drying them out, sound unfathomable – but it happens, often. Schools have reported young girls staying home from school for the week they have their period, because their families can’t afford to provide sanitary products. Needing to take such action surely is a health issue, if not a social one, particularly for young women in more deprived areas throughout New Zealand." – Suzy Mitchell, Community Programmes Manager at St John New Zealand
"A lack of access to sanitary items is a serious and hidden equity issue which needs to be addressed to support these young girls, particularly those of primary school age. It’s really a matter of child rights that no girl, of any age, should miss school because her family could not afford menstrual products.” - Dr Sarah Donovan, Otago University’s Department of Public Health
"Not being able to pay for sanitary items, and having to take time off crucial education and work leads to an even larger equality gap, and mental health issues. This is 100% an equality issue that needs more support.Period poverty may seem like a new challenge facing society but ask your mum or nana and they'll have a story too. But now we women are breaking down the patriarchal taboos, we are able to talk about things like period poverty and hopefully, collectively put an end to it." - Michele, in Villainesse
"I think the Government needs to look at the issue and think about how we can respond and work with communities and families. There are a number of ways this could be approached, including looking at GST on products and fully funding products." - Willow-Jean Prime
“As Kiwis we pride ourselves on leading the way in gender equality. But this is a huge, hidden barrier to that. For girls in low income families, education is the best way out of hardship. But they’re being denied that chance because they can’t afford basic necessities like sanitary items.” - Julie Chapman, CEO KidsCan
We could look at subsidising sanitary products... or we could look at a living wage so that people actually can afford sanitary products, and don't have to make those difficult choices about how they spend their income." - Dr Sue Bagshaw
“[Sanitary items are] too expensive and often babies nappies and formula came first. Have used a disposable nappy more than once at night.” - KidsCan respondent
“We had to use a pad for an entire day to make them last and not go out for fear of leakage.” - KidsCan respondent
“Single mama. Bills to pay food to buy. Can only afford to buy when they are on special.” - KidsCan respondent
“I have to sacrifice a day or two of food to be able to afford what many call ‘a female luxury.’” - KidsCan respondent
“It’s a luxury item for us, and our kids come first... I’ll just fold a length of loo paper.” - KidsCan respondent
“When my daughter got her period I made sure she got pads and I had no money left when it was my turn.” - KidsCan respondent