All New Zealand schools will have free access to sanitary products from June, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced on Thursday, an initiative aimed at stamping out period poverty in the country.
The announcement follows a successful pilot program launched around the middle of last year, which provided free period products to about 3,200 young people in 15 schools.
“Providing free period products at school is one way the government can directly address poverty, help increase school attendance, and make a positive impact on children’s well-being,” Ardern said in a statement.
“We want to see improved engagement, learning and behaviour, fewer young people missing school because of their period, and reduced financial hardship amongst families of participating students.”
Speaking to reporters later in the day, Ardern said research had shown one in 12 young people were missing school due to this issue. She said the program will cost NZ$25 million ($17.96 million) through to 2024.
Minister of Women Jan Tinetti said the issues with periods at school included embarrassment, stigma, missing classes, being “caught out” without products, cost, lack of knowledge and discomfort.
“Students wanted information about periods, period products, and other practical elements of managing their period such as tracking and knowing when and who to reach out to for assistance,” she said.
The government will work with suppliers to manage a phased roll-out of the scheme, she said.
The youngest female prime minister when she came to power in 2017, Ardern is seen as a global icon and a champion for women’s rights. She swept the polls in October, securing a second term in office on the back of her government’s success in containing the spread of the coronavirus.
Her pregnancy and maternity leave while in office in 2018 was hailed as symbolizing progress for women leaders. She made headlines around the world when she took her three-month old daughter with her while attending the UN General Assembly in New York.