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July 31, 2017 | by  | in VUWSA |
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Periods. Approximately half of the population get them, yet they do not garner nearly enough attention or airtime. However, one of the hot topics of this year (other than Donald Trump’s tweets and the global avocado shortage) has been the cost of pads and tampons. In February, Pharmac began its investigation into the possibility of subsidising menstrual products, after a call from a private citizen for this to be looked into. The request was rejected two months later, on the basis that periods were a “normal function” and therefore menstrual products do not meet the requirements of providing a “therapeutic benefit” and did not serve a “health need.” While, for half of the population, monthly bleeding is a normal function, this does not disqualify the health need.

How is this relevant to students? Many students already struggle to meet the basic costs of living. Add the exorbitant price of tampons and pads to the mix and menstruating students will often find themselves in the supermarket aisle, deciding what food item(s) to knock off the shopping list that week so they can afford that $7.99 pack of 16 regular tampons. Oh, but you’ll also need some supers for the really heavy days and probably some minis for the lighter days, a pack or two of pads (for at night), and some liners in case of overflow. Having a period can quickly add up to $30–$40 per month and, if you have to buy it all at once, this is a huge knock to the weekly budget.

If students are going without food, what else are students going without? Last year Wā Collective (a not-for-profit social enterprise which provides affordable, accessible, and sustainable menstrual products to students right on campuses by pairing with students’ associations) conducted a survey to “validate their assumption that students need access to free or subsided menstrual products.” Of the 955 respondents, 75% were current students. Of those surveyed, 33% said they had skipped class because of not having access to menstrual products. It goes without saying that this is hugely concerning. How can those students be expected to participate as fully as their counterparts if they are restricted access to classes because of a silly tax? This goes to the heart of welfare, equity, and accessibility. It seems hugely unfair to tax half of the population for something which they cannot avoid — menstrual products are a necessity, not a luxury. Condoms are handed out free, like lollies, but I always run with the analogy that sex is usually a lot easier to refrain from than having a period.

What is being done about it? Since Pharmac has vetoed removing the tax from menstrual products, VUWSA is here to help. We are partnering up with the University to trial access to free pads and tampons on campus, and have partnered with Wā Collective to provide discounted menstrual cups (for the environmentally-conscious student). The exact details for the free menstrual products are being ironed out, but it will mean access to pads and tampons at all three campuses. This will be unveiled in the next few weeks, so keep an eye out.

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