Providing access to period products

Issue: Volume 100, Number 2

Posted: 25 February 2021
Reference #: 1HAHG6

A new initiative is helping to provide ākonga with access to period products and reduce stigma around periods. Tokoroa High School was among the first schools and kura to take part in the first phase of the initiative.

Periods are a fact of life yet they can be the cause of much anxiety, particularly for students who have difficulty accessing period products, like tampons and pads.

At Tokoroa High School, accessing period products is no longer something students have to worry about. A survey at the school was taken before products were introduced, revealing that many students felt whakamā (shy) about accessing these products at school.

Aroha Watene, who helped coordinate the pilot at the school, says this is no longer the case, thanks to the school’s participation in the period product initiative.

In the past it was common for a student not to attend school when they had their period, she says.

“Quite often, if a girl got her period at school, she wouldn’t come to school for the rest of her cycle.”

“Now, they can access the products discreetly. We’ve got dispensers in all the bathrooms, so they don’t need to ask for them.”

Previously, around 10 girls each day would request period products from the school office, says Aroha.

“They would often ask for more to get them through the night. Now they can manage their supply discreetly themselves, without having to feel bad about asking for more. It’s made such a difference.”

School trial

Tokoroa High School is among 15 urban and rural schools and kura from the Waikato region to take part in a trial that provided up to 3,200 young people with access to period products.

Starting in September 2020, products were delivered to schools and kura during terms 3 and 4 by suppliers that were identified for the trial due to their involvement in other period poverty programmes.

The trial allowed suppliers to test out different products and ways of providing them and understand more about student preferences.

At Tokoroa High School, products were accessed by dispensers installed in the school bathrooms to allow easy access for students and a choice between pads and tampons. They were also made available to students at the school office.

Roll-out across the country

Following the success of the trial, the initiative is about to be rolled out to all schools and kura across New Zealand on an opt-in basis.

Students’ and suppliers’ experiences of the trial have helped inform the second phase of implementation.

A research and consulting firm independently engaged with students on their experiences of periods, the barriers they currently face, and ideas on how to overcome them.

The research articulated the importance of listening to students, using open and positive language about periods, providing more education around periods, and including teachers, whānau and students who do not have periods in the discussions.

The research suggested schools and kura should create systems that allow students to access period products easily, discreetly and when they need them.

Students valued having choice, both in product and how it was made available to them. Many valued the opportunity to access products via a dispenser in the school bathroom, as well as discreetly from student services or the school office.

Many ākonga liked the idea of being able to get a bulk order but still have them available for the times when they didn’t have products to hand.

Looking ahead

In the first instance, pads and tampons will be provided. These products are easy to use and appropriate for a broad range of students’ age, developmental, and cultural needs in a schooling context. This also addresses the immediate need of many students to gain reliable access to products when they need it.

As period products are introduced into schools and kura across the country and more is understood about student and school needs, there will be an opportunity to look into ways to support alternative products, including menstrual cups and eco-friendly sanitary underwear, along with options for more sustainable waste management.

Schools and kura can continue to opt-in to the initiative.

Some of the early learnings from the trial have identified the need for wider education on periods for both students and their teachers, parents and whānau.

Aroha agrees more education is needed. “I think a lot of girls learn about periods from their older sisters. It would be good to see more education for younger students in this area.” 

How to opt in

All state and state-integrated primary, intermediate and secondary schools and kura can opt in to receive period products for their ākonga by completing a short form on the Ministry’s website.

There is a phased approach to providing products. The first step will be to tender for the supply and distribution of products. Schools and kura that opt in by 31 March 2021 will be included in the first phase with the products arriving in schools from the end of Term 2. Schools can continue to opt in but will be included in later phases of the roll-out.

Schools that opt in will be contacted with more information on next steps once the procurement process is completed.

Search ‘access to free period products’ on the Ministry’s website for more information. 

Period poverty in New Zealand

Findings from the Youth19 Survey included: 12 per cent of Year 9 to 13 students who get periods reported difficulty getting access to products due to cost. Recent research from the University of Otago found that 94,788 girls aged 9 to 18 from the country’s poorest households may be unable to afford to buy period products and could be missing school when they have their periods.

Providing access to free period products to those who need it, in all state and state-integrated schools and kura will:

  • reduce barriers to access and improve school attendance, sports involvement and tertiary participation
  • improve child and youth wellbeing
  • reduce financial strain on families and whānau experiencing poverty/material hardship
  • promote positive gender norms and reduce the stigmatisation of periods.

BY Education Gazette editors
Education Gazette | Tukutuku Kōrero,

Posted: 9:38 am, 25 February 2021

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