A solo mother-of-two fighting to provide a better future for her children is speaking up about the need to address "period poverty" to ensure girls as young as 9 aren't being shamed.

Hamilton mum Mersey Burrows was one of more than 5000 Kiwi women who responded to a new KidsCan survey revealing more than half found it difficult to access sanitary items - and nearly a third admitted to missing school or work because of it.

The survey follows findings from a University of Otago study that last month showed one in 16 Kiwi girls - some as young as 9 - started their period in primary schools.

Burrows, 34, believes the figures in reality are much higher.

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"Growing up I knew many girls who would act out and wag to miss out on sporting events or a full day of school because they were on their period."

Burrows said some girls would shoplift because their parents couldn't afford to buy them tampons or pads.

"I had friend who used to refer to tampons as plugs because she would use it for a long period of time. She'd borrow one then keep it up there for about three days which is actually pretty dangerous."

For Burrows, this struggle has continued into her adult life.

The business management student was regularly finding herself having to skip class because she couldn't afford to buy sanitary products.

"After getting healthy food on my kids' plates, paying rent and all the other bills plus child care - there often just isn't the money for tampons."

KidsCan chief executive Julie Chapman said the results from the survey confirmed concerns voiced by teachers and principals about the number of girls missing school when they have their period.

"As Kiwis we pride ourselves on leading the way in gender equality. But this is a huge, hidden barrier to that.

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"For girls in low-income families, education is the best way out of hardship. But they're being denied that chance because they can't afford basic necessities like sanitary items," Chapman said.

More than 1300 stories of struggle were shared by survey respondents.

One said: "I have to sacrifice a day or two of food to be able to afford what many call 'a female luxury'."

Another said: "When my daughter got her period I made sure she got pads and I had no money left when it was my turn."

University of Otago Department of Public Health Wellington researcher Dr Sarah Donovan
is preparing an application to Pharmac to fund free sanitary products for all school-aged girls in New Zealand.

"The age some girls can get their period is out of their control and if their parents are poor and can't afford sanitary products that will put shame on them. It's time to break the barrier of [this] taboo subject," Burrows said.

She said condoms were given out like confetti, so why not menstrual items.

"These girls should be able to go to school every day and join in with sports comfortable ... not have to stay at home."

This year KidsCan provided more than 16,000 boxes of tampons, pads and liners to hundreds of schools around the country.