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Period poverty is shaming Kiwi teens into skipping school

NOTED logo NOTED 31/10/2018 Julie Chapman
a person looking at the camera: Photo / Namning © Bauer Media Photo / Namning

What is life like for teenagers grappling with period poverty? Until now, they have suffered in silence, too embarrassed to talk about their period, let alone admit their families can’t afford to buy them the essentials to deal with it.

The charity KidsCan went to uncover the students’ stories, after hearing heartbreaking reports from schools all around New Zealand.

Three girls at one school got toxic shock syndrome from using their tampons for too long. Others are taking the contraceptive pill just so they can skip their period. Countless girls are missing a week of school every month as they stay home close to the toilet. 

How big a problem is it? 29 per cent of 15-17-year-olds who responded to a KidsCan survey, out today, say they have missed school because they haven’t been able to access sanitary items. It is a barrier to an education they desperately need.

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In Scotland, a similar survey helped trigger government moves to introduce free sanitary items for all students. Australia has also recognised the problem, removing GST from pads and tampons. In New Zealand, KidsCan has distributed 16,000 boxes of pads and tampons to students in need this year.

It's a very real problem. Just listen to these teenage girls, from Auckland and Gisborne, tell their stories.

a screenshot of a cell phone: Infographic: KidsCan © Bauer Media Infographic: KidsCan

 'I didn't want to tell anyone'

“When it comes out of nowhere it’s 'what do I do? Who do I tell? Who can I trust?’ I’d just walk home without telling my teacher. It was pretty shame. I didn’t want to tell anyone.”

“Every time we have our period we’re paranoid it will leak through. You might be walking and out of nowhere it’s on your legs. Especially in a co-ed school with boys…”

 “I thought it was over but it wasn’t and a lot of people saw me with a stain on my skirt. So I was very embarrassed. I went home, had a shower and came back and a boy embarrassed my in front of the whole course. He said ‘you’re the most unattractive girl I know.’ I just went silent.”

 “If I didn’t have anything around me I’d just use toilet paper. It was very uncomfortable and quite shameful because you don’t know if it’s dripping out. I wouldn’t come to school because of that.”

 “It was causing problems with my attendance. I was falling behind in work, and then I felt like it was annoying to my tutor to repeat what he’d said when I left. There was a point where I stopped asking for help.” 

 “It’s quite ratsh*t for people who like to go to school and they’re not able to because of nature.”

 “I live with my mum and my aunty. They can’t afford them all the time. We’re feeding like 10 people. It’s a struggle. My nan makes her own reusable ones but I don’t find it very hygienic.”

“I have a big family at home, including 3 girls. Sometimes we are struggling. I don’t really ask for them if I know we can’t afford it.  I try to have a couple of spares in my bag from school. Sometimes I make my own from socks or toilet paper.”

 "'We can’t eat tampons!’ That’s what my Mum says.”It’s not going to fill you up!” She means it takes food out of our mouths, like meat and stuff.”  

 “Having sanitary items at course makes a lot of difference. We have racks in our toilet. If you can [get them] yourself you don’t feel as much shame."

 “They’re right in the toilets. It’s one less thing to worry about when I come to school.”

 “It’s a relief. It’s less embarrassing than to ask other girls for pads.”

 “It needs to be looked at more seriously. There’s a lot of families who can’t afford them. You just don’t talk about it. Too much shame. No one wants to be known that their families struggling, and they don’t like putting their struggle onto other people.”

You can help provide sanitary items and other essentials to Kiwi girls across NZ - giving them confidence, dignity and more time in the classroom. Join us at kidscan.org.nz

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