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Listening To The Kids: Students’ Solutions To Period Poverty Make A Difference

KidsCan is welcoming news tonight that the Government has promised $2.27 million in this year’s Budget to tackle period poverty in schools.

It comes as young people living in hardship give a rare insight into the shame and stigma they experience around menstruation. Their stories form the basis of a new Auckland University report, produced for KidsCan, to investigate how New Zealand can better respond to the issue.

After embracing students’ ideas, the charity is making huge in-roads into reaching those most in need in the 787 schools it supports nationwide.

“Extra funding is desperately needed. Due to Covid-19, we have more families than ever forced to choose between buying sanitary items or enough food,” KidsCan’s CEO Julie Chapman says. “Period poverty is creating huge anxiety in our already vulnerable young girls. It is a barrier to an education they desperately need to get out of poverty.”

The report found:

  • Providing menstrual products in school is essential for students’ health and wellbeing
  • Having access to free products alone will not address period inequity
  • There is a profound lack of knowledge around menstruation in some schools from both students and staff, and they need more support
  • Education needs to begin in primary school as the age of menstruation gets younger, and for both sexes to reduce stigma

Auckland University ran focus groups with students from low decile schools. They described feeling “scared, ashamed and insecure” while menstruating at school. Some had to work out how to use sanitary products on their own. Others felt too embarrassed to ask a male staff member for supplies.

As a result, KidsCan is now doing more than just providing free sanitary items in the decile 1-4 schools it supports. Last year, the charity established a feminine hygiene steering group with youth representatives, health practitioners, industry representatives, iwi leaders and officials from the Ministry for Women to work on a range of new measures.

4,000 students across 100 KidsCan partnership schools have been trialling sample kits with a range of products, educational material, discrete carry bags, and student ordering cards available in English and Te Reo Maori to reduce embarrassment around asking for supplies. They received enough products to support their whole cycle both at home and school.

The new measures resulted in a 300% increase in product demand with positive feedback from students and teachers’ alike. This year KidsCan expects to distribute 120,000 boxes of pads, tampons and liners - a four-fold increase from 2019.

“Listening to students has given us a model that is starting to make inroads into period poverty,” Chapman says. “It would be amazing to see this model expanded.”

KidsCan has proposed a partnership with the Government, expanding the charity’s programme which already offers free menstrual products and educational material for students across 787 primary and secondary schools – more than a third of public schools in New Zealand.

“With Government investment, KidsCan could support all students that are likely to experience period poverty in New Zealand,” Chapman says. “We already source feminine hygiene products at near cost price, thanks to our amazing suppliers. In addition, our partner Johnson & Johnson supports our programme through financial support, product donations and volunteering.”

“The delivery infrastructure is in place: schools order what they need for their students through our online portal and we deliver sanitary items alongside food, raincoats and shoes. We also have a partnership with two leading organisations - NEST Consulting and Waste Free with Kate - to deliver menstrual education for schools and students, which we know is crucial.

“We have an established system that works and we’d love to expand this to benefit more children. The goal is to ensure no student misses school or is unable to participate because they do not have access to menstrual products.”

To donate: www.KidsCan.org.nz

KidsCan statistics

KidsCan provides food, raincoats, shoes, socks, and basic health and hygiene items in 787 schools nationwide.

The charity also supports 2,000 preschoolers in 57 early childhood centres. Every child receives a raincoat, shoes, head lice treatment and five fresh, healthy meals a week. Nearly 100 centres are waiting for help.

Last year KidsCan provided

  • Baked beans, bread, spreads, fruit, yoghurt, supergrain bars and scroggin, fuelling on average 30,000 children a day
  • More than 424,500 servings of hot meals - including soups, curries and pasta
  • 128,000 loaves of bread
  • More than 40,000 raincoats and 25,000 pairs of shoes to get children to school warm and dry
  • More than 45,000 bottles of head lice treatment and 45,000 lice combs

KidsCan is proudly supported by Meridian Energy, Principal Partner since 2013.

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