Girls from low-income families forced to use phonebooks, newspapers and rags to make-do during menstruation
Schoolgirls in New Zealand are skipping class because they cannot afford sanitary pads and are being forced to use phonebooks, newspapers and rags to make-do during menstruation.
In the last three months local charity KidsCan distributed 4,000 sanitary items to more than 500 low-income schools nationwide after they were given a NZ$25,000 (USD$18,000) government grant to begin to address the issue.
Because KidsCan buy in bulk, they are able to purchase packs of sanitary products for around NZ$1 instead of the NZ$4-8 that supermarkets usually charge. Sanitary products are taxed in New Zealand.
Vaughan Couillault, principal of Papatoetoe high school in south Auckland, said it was a serious concern that many of his 700 female students from lower socio-economic backgrounds could not afford the products to manage their monthly cycle hygienically.
This year KidsCan started supplying the school with sanitary items, but before that his staff would make regular trips to the supermarket to buy sanitary supplies, and charge female students 50 cents to cover costs. According to Couillault, at other low-income schools in New Zealand teachers buy students sanitary products using their own money.
Sarah Kull, a school nurse at Papatoetoe, said since the 50 cent charge was removed the number of students approaching her for sanitary products had increased to around 10-15 pupils each day. Half of them needed one-off items and half were stocking up to cater for their entire period.
There is a shame factor involved in asking for help with such an intimate part of your life, and I think the girls we see approaching us are just the tip of the iceberg, said Kull.
A lot of girls are too embarrassed to ask. We also have about the same number each day come to us for pain relief related to their periods. Paracetamol is cheaper than pads but there is still a cost involved, which for many students from low-income families is unmanageable.
Labour MP Louisa Wall is spear-heading the campaign to draw attention to school-age girls who cant afford the average NZ$5-15 (USD$3-10) a month for sanitary items. She has also been told of women in hospital who have been unable to access sanitary items, and that many female university students struggle to pay to cover their periods.
Local schools started coming to me and saying: We need help with this. Girls are skipping class and sports because they cant afford the sanitary items that make their periods a normal part of life, she said.
This issue is still taboo and we really need to start addressing it because sanitary items are not a luxury they are a basic necessity. Not being able to afford them is holding many girls and women back, and I am especially concerned about them missing out on education because of their periods.