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Dayna Berghan: The State Won't Pay For Tampons

Dayna Berghan: The State Won't Pay For Your Tampons

An Opinion Piece
Dayna Berghan
National Women's Rights Officer
New Zealand University Students Association

In February of this year I was directed by the Tertiary Womens Focus Group (TWFG), the womens caucus of the New Zealand University Students Association, to source free resources for their women students. By resources they did not mean brochures and pamphlets but items such as female sanitary items and baby diapers. You may ask. Why? The simple fact remains that while students on average are considered a poor lot by the public and the government students do actually live in relative poverty whilst studying. More so that whilst studying students are not eligible for the Emergency Unemployment Benefit if they are unable to get a job over summer, and the top amount you can receive each week for student allowances and student loans combined is $150 a week. Take into account that women menstruate every month and there is no government subsidy on female sanitary products, and you are required to pay Goods and Services tax (GST) on items such as these. It is an infuriating economic reality for some women students.

I have a small conspiracy theory to offer. The state does not recognise the real need for subsidised sanity products, as there is no later burden for the state to pick up. One defence of the state as there are many products available for female sanitary requirements. The counter argument is that some pharmaceuticals are subsidised by the state, why not sanitary items?

How did I reach this conspiracy theory? The simple answer is contraceptives. The state subsidies, in some cases fully subsidises contraceptives. Why? If there were no contraceptives available then there would be an increase of unplanned pregnancy and a looking to the state to provide the Domestic Purposes Benefit (DPB) for its citizens. Spend money now on contraceptives and save on the DPB later. I over simplify of course, but you see where I am heading with this.

Compare my above conspiracy to the recent climate of dialogue over the proposed instatement of Paid Parental Leave (PPL) that is due to be phased in on April next year here in New Zealand. TWFG supports the introduction of Paid Parental Leave. As TWFG is a component of NZUSA we run with the line that PPL should be introduced and funded by an employer levy. Other organisations that support PPL would like to see it funded by an employer levy, however that is not the feeling of all the organisations involved in the PPL campaign, some would like to see PPL paid for by government. PPL is going to come in; it was announced in the Budget not so long ago. The question of who will fund PPL is what is remaining.

There has been a climate of misconception built on stereotyping. The papers and television has been filled with small business employers saying that they can't afford to pay for their workers to take 12 weeks off while they have a baby. There has been right -wing view promoted by employers that suddenly come April next year each female member of their staff will suddenly become pregnant and drain the employers dry of funds. What rot, I say. The employer will not be expected to support their individual employees when they become pregnant. Rather it will be a scheme that is much like our existing Accident Compensation scheme. If you are a big firm you will pay a big levy, if you are a small firm you will pay a small levy. And any one who believes that individuals will "choose" to alter their life forever by having a baby just so they could cash in on 12 weeks PPL has got to be mad. The simple facts remain that women after they leave the workforce to have a child find it hard to enter again at the same pay level at which they first left. By providing PPL you keep the same employee (with all her institutional knowledge and expertise) in your company. The employers don't want to pay for their workers and the Government has not committed anything concrete to supporting their citizens.

So where does this tie into the women students and the sanitary product conspiracy. Well just like the Tertiary Institutions raising student fees and not providing a higher quality education, just like students are penalised over summer if they cannot find a job and are thus forced into worse depths of poverty, just like the employers refusing to pay for their employees to take 12 weeks PPL and the Government not making any concrete promises, it is always the person in the middle who is the one to loose. Students are poor, women students have an inescapable cost that they must meet every month and the state is not doing a thing to help them. It takes a woman with a student debt in New Zealand 27 years to pay, compared with the 14 years that it takes a man with the same amount of debt. Hence women pay far more student loan interest than men do. It is the same with the living components to student support schemes. Women have to spend every month on sanitary products, not an insubstantial amount by the time the year is done. The woman student pays more interest on her loan and has less disposable income at the end of each month.

Society runs on women's unpaid labour. Shouldn't society give women some remuneration such as PPL, free childcare and cheap tampons?

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