Period poverty is shaming Kiwi teens into skipping school

by Julie Chapman / 01 November, 2018

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.

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.

Period poverty infographic

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


Michael Moore takes on Trump with fire and fury in Fahrenheit 11/9
100230 2018-12-12 00:00:00Z Movies

Michael Moore takes on Trump with fire and fury in…

by James Robins

The conflagration that gave the US President Trump is traced to September 2001.

Read more
10 ideas for the perfect summer Christmas menu
100210 2018-12-12 00:00:00Z Food

10 ideas for the perfect summer Christmas menu

by Lauraine Jacobs

Seafood stars in the entrée courses before turkey takes centre stage, with all the trimmings, to be followed by a fantastic fruity pudding.

Read more
How Whangārei became New Zealand's home of jugger
99256 2018-12-12 00:00:00Z Life in NZ

How Whangārei became New Zealand's home of jugger

by Michael Botur

On every second Sabbath, grown men and women armed with foam chase a dog skull around Whangārei’s Kensington Park.

Read more
New Zealand's silent Pasifika mental health crisis
100357 2018-12-11 17:18:21Z Health

New Zealand's silent Pasifika mental health crisis…

by Indira Stewart

What do you do if your culture treats mental illness like a curse? Bury it deep.

Read more
The smart speaker with a screen: How does the Amazon Echo Show stack up?
100317 2018-12-11 15:10:01Z Tech

The smart speaker with a screen: How does the Amaz…

by Peter Griffin

A review of the Amazon Echo Show smart speaker.

Read more
Domestic violence: 'There's a huge amount of work that needs to be done' – PM
100265 2018-12-11 10:30:17Z Social issues

Domestic violence: 'There's a huge amount of work …

by RNZ

Grace Millane's death is a reminder of the work that needs to be done to reduce violence directed at women in this country, says the PM.

Read more
Finally, a trio of chunky referendum issues to spice up the next election
99872 2018-12-11 00:00:00Z Politics

Finally, a trio of chunky referendum issues to spi…

by Bevan Rapson

The possibility of Kiwis voting on three contentious issues – euthanasia, cannabis and an MMP shakeup – is like crowdsourcing political decisions.

Read more
The bullying allegations show that Parliament needs transparency
100228 2018-12-11 00:00:00Z Politics

The bullying allegations show that Parliament need…

by Bill Ralston

As a review stalks bullies in the corridors of power, Bill Ralston writes that abuse thrives in the darkness.

Read more