In some parts of the world, girls are forced to miss school when they have their periods.

Places like Kenya, Ghana, Ethiopia and . . . New Zealand.

Before the word 'period' causes a mass exodus to the next page, I have a plea to make.

If there's one subject that generally goes down like a cup of cold sick with men, it's menstruation.


The quickest way to get rid of the boys when I was at school was to start talking about periods, and I'm aware that a similar trend will probably hold with male readers.

But please, gents, bear with me.

Periods are often [wrongly] thought of as a "women's issue", discussed quietly and almost exclusively with other women.

A shadow of shame and stigma surrounds "Aunt Flo" even to this day, which makes it immensely difficult to have any kind of national conversation about an entirely normal process that affects a significant portion of the population.

The fact that girls and young women in New Zealand are being forced to miss school because they have their period is a disgrace.

The issue, which Seven Sharp has been following, should gall anyone with a daughter, wife, girlfriend, niece or sister.

Hearing about girls like 15-year-old Taylor, who had to stay home from school because her mum couldn't afford to pay for sanitary items when Taylor got her period the day before payday, makes me deeply angry.

Although it's difficult to know the extent of the problem, Daryl Evans, from Mangere Budgeting Services, told Seven Sharp he knew of at least 10 families who were forced to keep their daughters home from school because they couldn't afford sanitary items.


It's a story I've also heard through my work with Variety - the Children's Charity, with mothers having to prioritise buying food for their children over their own sanitary supplies.

In 2014, the Government gave KidsCan a grant of $25,000 to supply sanitary items to low-decile schools.

The fact that girls are still being kept home from school two years later suggests the grant was not a particularly effective solution to an ongoing problem.

The grant also did little to alleviate the suffering of mums and other adult women struggling to make ends meet.

What we need is a long term, shame-free solution available to all girls and women who need it.

Speaking from experience, there are few feelings that can begin to rival the mortification that accompanies the realisation that you don't have the sanitary items that you urgently need.

Most women have, at some time in the lives, been caught out by the onset of a period, but for most of us, it's nothing a quick trip to a dairy or a service station can't fix.

I can't even begin to imagine the awfulness of being forced to use unhygienic rags, newspapers or other miscellaneous materials because I couldn't afford to buy tampons.

How about spending a very small portion of it on providing girls and women with the basic supplies they need?

Being a teenage girl with your period is difficult enough without having to rely on the sanitary supplies of the 1900s.

The system is failing girls like Taylor and it doesn't sound as if our leaders are planning to do anything about it.

The office of Health Minister Jonathan Coleman recently said that funding for sanitary items is not something that is being looked at.

Pharmac, however, said it would consider funding sanitary items if an application were made.

Someone needs to make that application, and quickly.

One of the most troubling aspects of stories such as Taylor's is that sanitary items are not hugely expensive, which illustrates the level of struggle some of our poorest families are dealing with.

A 16-pack of generic supermarket brand tampons costs about $3.50, while the cheapest packets of pads at Countdown costs about $2.45.

A low level of funding from Pharmac would go a long way towards improving the lives of girls and women living in low-income families.

Adding another layer to the sanitary scandal is the fact that tampons, pads and other sanitary items are subject to GST.

The "tampon tax" debate has been raging globally over recent years, with varying results.

A campaign in the UK saw the tax on sanitary items reduced from 17.5 per cent to 5 per cent in 2000, and Canada removed the GST on the items in July last year.

It has been widely argued that the practice of taxing sanitary items is discriminatory, and it's not difficult to see why: menstruating isn't exactly something women can opt out of.

Tampons, pads and the like are essential items that only women are forced to buy.

The involuntary act of about 40 years of menstruation should really be no business of the taxman.

Bafflingly, it's an issue that does not seem to perturb the Minister for Women.

Both Louise Upston and Minister for Revenue Michael Woodhouse have dismissed the idea of removing or reducing the tax burden on sanitary products.

Upston has previously said that although as Minister for Women she has a "number of priorities", lifting the tax on tampons is not one of them.

My question is why?

Surely it should concern the Minister for Women if girls are being kept out of school because their families can't afford sanitary products.

The Ministry for Women claims on its website that its purpose is to "work to improve lives for New Zealand women".

Ensuring that Kiwi girls and women have access to essential sanitary items seems to me to not be just a case of "improvement", but one of basic human dignity.

It goes further than Upston, however.

The idea that girls and women in Aotearoa are being forced to use rags in 2016 should outrage us all.

How can this be happening in our supposedly developed society?

The Government loves talking about the healthy surplus it is currently enjoying.

How about spending a very small portion of it on providing girls and women with the basic supplies they need?