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Period poverty is a no-brainer – no money, no options

Year 9 Kuranui College students say they found the Divine River sustainable products programme life changing. PHOTO/FILE

ALEYNA MARTINEZ
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Period poverty is a recent buzz word but not a new issue for Karen Jamison, the school nurse at Makoura College and the Wairarapa Teen Parent Unit in Masterton.

“We don’t have period poverty; we have poverty, and if there’s no food on the table there’s not going to be tampons in the cupboard,” she told the Times-Age this week.

This comes after an announcement by the Warehouse Group that it would start selling $1 sanitary pad packets to tackle period poverty.

Each packet contains 10 regular pads, super pads, or liners under The Warehouse brand.

Wendy Hemi from Makoura College said her students had missed school in the past due to period poverty.

“This situation seems to be improving gradually as awareness to support via school grows.”

Wellington-based organisation Dignity supplies Makoura College, Kuranui College, and the Wairarapa Teen Parent Unit with period products.

“We provide a buy one, give one model for period products creating equity for all,” general manager Anika Speedy said.

Hemi said embarrassment at school was an issue and many students “lack the confidence to ask and demonstrate shyness and embarrassment about this, but this is improving with growing awareness and the availability from Dignity”.

“I have not noticed peer pressure or bullying, our students appear to be understanding and demonstrate empathy for their respective friends’ individual situations,” she said.

“What I would like to see is the menstrual cup being made available – an eco-friendly option.”

Last year, Kuranui College teamed up with Divine River, a not-for-profit organisation focused on educational programmes and student-led workshops creating an awareness of the sustainable feminine hygiene options that are available to young women.

Co-founder Joanna Hehir said it was important to make the school environment accepting and supportive of the students’ choices.

“One of our key aims for the students was to normalise discussions on the topic across all genders,” Hehir said.

Kuranui Year 9 student and steering group member, Nilah Savage said the outcome for her was life-changing.

“I thought I knew quite a bit when I started the programme, but once we had done the first workshop, I realised I really didn’t know anything.

“Health in Year 7 and 8 wasn’t that good. It was all about relationships and we did nothing on our periods.

“Everything I learned was from my mum, but I still didn’t know about how much we bled and what was actually happening inside my body.

“The biggest learning point for me was getting the confidence to talk about it, making it normal for me and the people I surround myself with, so now I can talk to all my guy friends about it and be completely fine with it.

“I have the confidence in saying I have my period.”

In 2018, Scotland became the first country to make free products available for young girls who struggled to get access to them.

The Times-Age polled about 1700 people on Facebook asking whether period products should be free in New Zealand.

Of them, 84 per cent voted yes to free period products in New Zealand, and 16 per cent said no.

Facebook user Katrina Markenstein said she didn’t think they should be free.

“If money’s tight like in our house nothing wrong with the budget versions, they all get thrown away to the same place after use.”

Shawn Brook said, “I don’t choose to be diabetic … why should I have to pay for medical expenses … stupid argument … it’s called life, deal with it.”

Others were more supportive.

Suha Wahab said, “Having experience working with young women, the reality is they want to belong in spaces but are excluded because they don’t have any sanitary products because their families can’t afford this necessity.

“I definitely agree with the notion of providing menstrual cups as an alternative too.

“However, we are all different, so having the choice to use tampons, period underwear, pads, or other products should be there for all women and dependent on how comfortable she is.

“Also the right education and hygiene practices with using these products should be communicated at schools.”

Suzy Mansfield said every woman deserved the dignity that period products gave.

A Youth19 Survey conducted by four New Zealand universities made public last month, found more than 21 per cent of students in decile one schools had missed school due to a lack of menstruation products, with 14 per cent missing more than a day a month.

Maori and Pasifika students were most affected, almost one in 12 missing school once a month or more because they didn’t have access to the products they needed.

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