June 3, 2020 / 1:29 PM / a month ago

New Zealand offers schoolgirls free tampons to fight period poverty

WELLINGTON, June 3 (Thomson Reuters Foundation) - New Zealand said on Wednesday it would offer free sanitary products so that girls do not have to skip school during their period, becoming the latest nation to tackle period poverty.

The scheme will start in July with 15 schools before being expanded to all state schools in 2021 as part of a NZ$2.6 million ($1.7 million) plan announced last month to end period poverty in New Zealand.

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern said nearly 95,000 girls aged 9 to 18 could be staying at home during their period because they were unable to afford sanitary products.

“By making them freely available, we support these young people to continue learning at school,” Ardern said in a statement.

“This is another important initiative that sits alongside our work to reduce child poverty and hardship.”

It is estimated that half of all women and girls in poor countries are forced to use rags, cloths, grass and paper during their periods since many cannot afford to buy sanitary products.

But period poverty also exists in wealthy countries such as New Zealand, which still grapples with issues of child poverty and homelessness despite its economic success in recent decades.

One in 12 New Zealand schoolgirls aged between 13 and 17 have reported missing school because they cannot get sanitary products, according a 2019 survey of more than 7,700 youths funded by the government’s Health Research Council.

Girls who are unable to afford sanitary products have had to resort to using toilet paper, rags, old cloths and nappies, according to KidsCan, a charity that has been providing sanitary products to schools since 2013.

Its chief executive Julie Chapman said this year that period poverty was creating a barrier to education for already vulnerable young girls.

Campaigns to tackle the problem have gained pace in recent years, with Scotland becoming the first country in the world to make sanitary products freely available to all women in February.

Britain’s government last year launched a global period poverty fund to help all women and girls access sanitary products by 2050 and to tackle the stigma around menstruation.

$1 = 1.5686 New Zealand dollars Reporting by Preeti Kannan; Editing by Beh Lih Yi and Claire Cozens. Please credit the Thomson Reuters Foundation, the charitable arm of Thomson Reuters, that covers the lives of people around the world who struggle to live freely or fairly. Visit http://news.trust.org

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