Despite being experienced by more than half of the world’s population, periods can present multiple barriers to everyday life. In New Zealand, that has meant over 90,000 girls and counting are missing school due to inadequate access to sanitary items.
Our panel discussion, Achieving Period Equality (click to watch), demystified the issue of period poverty, with a deep-dive into it’s ripple effects and the ways we can overcome it. We spoke to local experts Emma Parry (Obstetrician Gynaecologist) and Caro Atkinson (Health and Guidance Counsellor) with Miranda Hitchings and Jacinta Gulasekaram (Founders of Dignity, suppliers of one-for-one period products) on how period poverty can be understood, supported and solved for our women and our girls. Click HERE to check their website and help out.
Problems with accessibility and affordability
Missing school is the tip of the iceberg for young women grappling with period poverty: low or no access to products and/or suffering from intense menstrual symptoms can mean missing 3-5 school days every month. This can lead to a significant setback in their overall schooling, disconnection to peers and lower engagement with co-curricular activities (which already sees a drop-off among girls at this stage of schooling). As for adult women in the workforce, such restrictions translate to time off paid work and subsequently, reduced income.
For people facing period poverty, spending resources on pads and tampons is likely to be of low priority — as is visiting the GP for menstruation-related issues, which may further exacerbate health issues. This disproportionally affects Maori and Pasifika wahine — who experience more debilitating periods, are underrepresented in research, are more likely to live below poverty lines and face bigger hurdles in accessing healthcare. In 2020, research has shown that 19% of wahine Maori have experienced period poverty, with 16% missing school because of it*.
Research is the key for conversation
Problems are fixed in different ways for different people. When it comes to discourse around periods, it differs vastly different between demographics. Therefore, understanding how specific audiences that struggle with period poverty is the key to finding the problem and solution at once.
Hearing from other young people is powerful
Supporting young people to have a voice is an excellent way of future-proofing progress around period poverty. Coming up with new ideas, supporting research and providing an arena to take action is a powerful way to change the course: “the more opportunities we have for young to hear from other young people in a culturally inclusive place is powerful.”
This idea has been mirrored by Auckland District Health Board’s ‘Peer Sexuality Support’ programme: where highschool students work with school counsellors to facilitate talks about periods, sexuality and diversity in a safe setting. They also connect their fellow students with people that support their needs and queries.
Challenge what’s been said about periods
“If girls get the message that the natural process of their body is shameful, this will obviously affect their relationship with their bodies and with other people’s bodies” — About Bloody Time, Karen Pickering and Jane Bennett.
Adolescence is critical for self-development. The feelings of shame and embarrassment that comes with not having access to manage menstruation impacts school girls at a deep level. Changing the course and conversation of period poverty has the immense ability to impact greater, healthier narratives around women’s health and bodies.
“ How we see ourselves shapes not only how we see our place in the world and our hopes for the world. ”
*Te Herenga Waka—Victoria University of Wellington Faculty of Health survey.
Click HERE to view full webinar on our YouTube channel.
About Ava Wardecki – Ava channels her love of storytelling into writing and as a director of her company, Sneaky Social Media. With a background in corporate branding, consumer behaviour, communications and a conjoint Marketing and Public Relations degree from AUT and HEC Paris, she’s worked across corporate, fashion, lifestyle and hospitality industries. Paris born, Auckland raised and a keen traveller, she’s passionate about how understanding and creating cultures can inspire and evoke change.