A fundamental human right

The shame of ``period poverty'' is keeping girls out of school.

Reports of women using socks as sanitary pads and stealing tampons from supermarkets as they struggle with a basic human need are becoming more prevalent.

Recently, New Zealand supermarket chain Countdown lowered the price of its Homebrand and Select sanitary products to make them more affordable.

The company says one of the drivers for making sanitary products more affordable is to help address the worldwide phenomenon. Period poverty is global and a reality for many young women in New Zealand.

Two southern secondary schools are among eight across the South Island receiving free sanitary products for female pupils as part of a partnership between St John and Dignity NZ. Dignity NZ provides a women's wellbeing initiative, allowing companies to buy a subscription to have sanitary items provided at their workplace.

Also, it supports a ``buy one, give one'' model to provide sanitary products to girls in secondary schools who are going without.

Pharmac last April rejected a request to fund all women's sanitary items. The Government drug-buying agency rejected the request on the grounds sanitary products are not medicines.

Amika George, an 18-year-old student in London started the #FreePeriods campaign last year, calling on the Government to give free menstrual products to children from low-income families.

She aimed to have the products provided to children who also received free school meals. As those children were from the lowest socio-economic backgrounds, they were the most likely to be faced with this monthly burden.

Period poverty affects young women around the globe. Harrowing cases of poor menstrual hygiene are commonplace - India, Kenya and Cambodia have battled for years to prevent girls from dropping out of schools in communities where mattress stuffing and leaves are often used instead.

The Kenyan Government last year promised to provide all school girls with free menstrual pads. The Indian state of Kerala launched its She Pad scheme late last year, distributing free pads in about 300 schools.

That some families in New Zealand cannot afford sanitary products for their daughters is something authorities should take action on. It is difficult this is happening here, but reports indicate it is a growing problem. But what to do?

Research indicates the use of a menstrual cup will save women about 14,000 tampons per person during their lifetime. The cost of the cups is expensive, initially, but the benefits are many.

If it becomes a choice for families of putting food on the table or buying sanitary products for daughters, food is likely to win. The Government's family package, introduced earlier this year, is designed to help struggling families.

The glib answer is to suggest the families in need are given counselling about priorities, including supplying the much-needed sanitary products to their daughters. However, that is not the answer. Counselling and budget advice has been available for decades.

The practical way to address the problem here is for the products, not the cash to buy them, to be given out at school.

Countdown's move to lower the price of sanitary items is expected to save customers $750,000 a year. The Salvation Army and Manurewa MP Louisa Wall launched an initiative through The Foodbank Project to help stock Salvation Army foodbanks with sanitary products. About $200,000 of tampons and sanitary pads have been donated since.

The Government's tax working group is likely to consider removing GST from sanitary items.

Work has started on addressing a fundamental human right. Wider support for organisations like Dignity NZ is needed.



There is no other description for this market than 'Lousy bunch of exploiters'.