Northland schools will have to wait until next year to gain access to free period products funded by the Government.

The Government allocated $2.6 million in this year's Budget to tackle period poverty.

During term 3, the Ministry of Education will begin providing free period products, starting with 15 schools in the Waikato region, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern and Minister for Women Julie Anne Genter announced this week.

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This will be expanded to all state and state-integrated schools on an opt-in basis in 2021.

Mahitahi Hauora health co-ordinator Terryann Clark, an associate professor at Auckland university, was "surprised" it was rolled out in the Waikato first. Mahitahi Hauora is the primary health entity (PHE) for Northland.

"I thought they would have prioritised populations who are the most deprived, and Tai Tokerau and the East Coast have been identified as those groups."

Clark said there are also issues around how the project is rolled out.

"For instance, how is it rolled out so it's not shaming young women. Do they have to ask someone? There needs to be a way to make sure we are hearing the voices of young people and how they access period products.

"Tai Tokerau young people do see things differently and do have locally specific issues that need to be addressed."

Period poverty is a big issue in some Northland communities , causing students to skip school and miss out on important academic, sporting and social experiences.

Ardern and Genter met with period campaigners, including Dignity NZ's Jacinta Gulasekharam and public health researcher Sarah Donovan, in the Prime Minister's office this week to discuss the details of the funding.


Waikato was selected to start with because it was a region "that provided a wide mix of settings across a relatively small geographic area", they said.

"We know that nearly 95,000 9-to-18-year olds may stay at home during their periods due to not being able to afford period products," Ardern said.

"By making them freely available, we support these young people to continue learning at school."

Mahitahi Hauora health co-ordinator Terryann Clark, an associate professor at Auckland university, is
Mahitahi Hauora health co-ordinator Terryann Clark, an associate professor at Auckland university, is "surprised" Government funding was rolled out in the Waikato first. Photo / Supplied

Tukau Community Fund co-founder Season-Mary Downs – who runs a partnership with My Cup NZ to distribute menstrual cups to women and girls in the Far North – said it "makes sense" to target a specific area and community to monitor the pilot's progress.

But she would like to see further allocations and rollouts to address all communities experiencing period poverty, she said.

"We have a high need in Tai Tokerau, and I'd like to see that come here very quickly.

"I'd like to see the Government really support local communities to be central in addressing and responding to the period poverty issue. It's a really personal issue so the more they can empower community leaders in the delivery, the better."

Downs said there was also a need for reusable menstrual cups and underwear "not just tampons and pads" in order to be sustainable.
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Clark said while period products are a good start, there needs to be a focus on the wider issue.

"Why are people having to choose between period products and food and rent? It really speaks to a wider issue of having a living wage so people can live with dignity."

Genter thanked the researchers and campaigners who have helped to raise the issue.

"Menstruation is a fact of life for half the population and access to these products is a necessity, not a luxury," she said.