A study led by Dr. Donovan found that students from New Zealand’s Maori and Pacific Island immigrant communities, who are statistically more likely to be affected by poverty, were also more likely to be unable to afford period products. Fifteen percent of Maori students and 14 percent of Pacific students have missed school because they did not have menstrual items, the study showed.
Sanitary products can cost as much as 15,000 New Zealand dollars, or $10,800, over a person’s lifetime, said Miranda Hitchings, co-founder of Dignity NZ, a for-profit organization that provides free sanitary items to schools, youth and community organizations.
“That is a significant cost that could be part of a student loan, or a house deposit,” she said. “But because of the gendered cyclical nature of poverty, it’s another thing that puts women, or people with periods, on the back foot.”
Before local news reports in 2016 shined a light on the extent of period poverty in New Zealand, there was relatively little public awareness of the problem, Ms. Hitchings said.
“We went and talked to schools and found that not only was it real, but it was incredibly prevalent,” she said. “We also found that local people individually, like nurses and teachers at schools, were purchasing products for their students out of their own pockets.”
There has also been a sharp increase in period poverty since the start of the coronavirus pandemic, she said.
A campaign for free period products gained steam in late 2019, when Ms. Hitchings, her co-founder, Jacinta Gulasekharam, and other campaigners submitted a petition with 3,000 signatures to the country’s Parliament calling for free period products for all students.