A petition that two college students started as part of a school project has nearly 21,000 signatures as more people push for GST to be removed from sanitary items.

Whangaparaoa College students Melanie Wilcock and Rebecca Jacobs were given an assignment for their sociology studies which involved them doing a project on a policy or law they believed needed to be changed.

The 17-year-olds decided to turn their project into a petition to have the 15 per cent GST removed from sanitary products.

People are putting their education at risk and their work income at risk.

"We believe it's such an important issue in our developing society. The women are embarrassed about a natural bodily function because they can't afford it," Melanie said.

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She said some people couldn't afford to pay for pads and tampons and were having to reuse products, something which increased the risk of a potentially fatal illness, Toxic Shock Syndrome.

"It just shouldn't be happening."

Melanie Wilcock (left) and Rebecca Jacobs started the petition as part of a school project. Photos / Supplied
Melanie Wilcock (left) and Rebecca Jacobs started the petition as part of a school project. Photos / Supplied

Women and girls who couldn't afford sanitary products were taking a week off school or work once a month, but were too embarrassed to say anything about the issue, Melanie said.

"People are putting their education at risk and their work income at risk."

The students are aiming to get 100,000 signatures on their petition in 30 days so they can present it to Parliament. Launched on Friday, it already has more than 20,700 signatures.

"At first we didn't think this would blow up like it did," she said, but since getting the response they did the students had decided "heck yeah, let's go full for it."

They had received a large amount of responses from members of the public too, including from people who were against the idea.

"One man, he said that it's too complicated to change the GST because in New Zealand it's like 15 per cent on everything. He thinks that it's too complicated to change just one thing."

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Melanie could respect the man's opinion, but wasn't sure if he was seeing the issue from all sides.

"He might not have daughters that he has to pay for sanitary products for, so maybe he doesn't know that perspective of it."

The strength of our GST system, which is widely regarded as one of the best, is the fact that it's comprehensive and there are no exemptions.

She said they were trying to "protest in a peaceful way" and take everyone's opinions on board.

A statement from Minister for Revenue Judith Collins' office said New Zealand had a "world-leading GST system".

"The strength of our GST system, which is widely regarded as one of the best, is the fact that it's comprehensive and there are no exemptions.

"There have been calls in the past for exemptions on essential items but it has been decided that it's not appropriate.

"However, the Government is supporting young women's access to sanitary products through initiatives like the $50,000 in funding for KidsCan to provide 16,5000 packs to 2000 girls in need."

Some commenters on the online petition said they could afford sanitary products, but not everybody could.

"I'm in a position where I can afford these items but they are not a luxury item for any woman and should be affordable for all. This will help," commented one person.

"I just took it for granted that every woman could afford this. It's a crying shame that they can't. Let's do something about it," said another.

The petition can be found on the change.org website.