No Paula Bennett, Tampons and Pads are Not “Luxury Items”: WINZ and Institutionalised Sexism

A close female friend who is a “job seeker” went to WINZ because she had absolutely no money for food. After the usual evidence-providing procedures, her case officer provided her with a supermarket card. But when he gave it to her he carefully explained that the supermarket card was for “necessity items only”, and she could not use it for various “luxury items” including tampons and pads.

Is her case officer just a lone example of a stressed and harried WINZ employee? A lone ranger of necessity-zealousness who doesn’t understand that most women of reproductive age do in fact menstruate on a monthly basis?

Unfortunately not.  Another female friend had a humiliating experience. She tried to use a WINZ supermarket card at the check-out at her local supermarket, and the card didn’t work. The cashier called WINZ to find out why the card wouldn’t work, and found out it was because she had tampons amongst the items she was purchasing. She had to return them.

The mind boggles. What does Paula Bennett want us to use instead of tampons and pads? Are tampons really the equivalent of wine and cigarettes? Does she think menstruating is something that women do for fun? Does she have any suggestions on how we could cut down on menstruation?

Supermarket cards are only given out when the beneficiary is in serious financial hardship. Nevertheless, the exclusion of tampons and pads from the list of “necessity items” that beneficiaries can buy when in financial hardship is a fairly extreme example of institutionalised sexism.

Institutionalised sexism is when an institution makes decisions that produces unequal effects on men and women’s lives. The decision-making does not need to be a deliberate attempt to undermine women. It may occur through the institution not sufficiently considering the different needs of women, or the gendered consequences of decision-making.

In this instance, the gendered consequences of WINZ defining tampons and pads as “luxury items” are fairly obvious. It means women facing financial hardship are put in a more vulnerable position then men. We cannot “choose” not to menstruate.

Paula Bennett, this is a new low. Not being able to buy tampons is frankly pretty third-world for New Zealand.


Just to update this story, Paula Bennett has taken to twitter confirming that tampons can be bought with payment cards, so this is not a decision that has been made at a policy level:

However, it shows to me – what many of you have astutely pointed out in the comments – that there is a level of confusion about what constitutes “necessities” and even “food items” with front-line WINZ staff ( and possibly also supermarket staff). Even if the WINZ staffer was incorrect in telling my friend that she couldn’t buy pads or tampons, this error is an effect of policy changes that make it harder for beneficiaries to receive their entitlements. For me, this interpretative error is still a consequence of institutionalised sexism, because it has unequal effects for the women who experience it. Multiple vulnerabilities come into play here, my friend is a young woman. It may be a case of WINZ staff being heavy-handed in their one-to-one interactions. Either way, the policy and information on the website needs to be made clearer.


114 thoughts on “No Paula Bennett, Tampons and Pads are Not “Luxury Items”: WINZ and Institutionalised Sexism

  1. You know what, I think New Zealand is a country that is used to being taken care of and will start complaining when their sense of entitlement is perceived to be affected. I had a couple of South African women visit here a couple of months ago and they said how New Zealanders are wasteful and have a mentality of ‘give me’. There are so many people around the world who are starving, living in true poverty, living on the street, doing whatever they can to get a little bit of anything to feed themselves or their children, and here you are complaining about Paula Bennett and her unfair policies.
    The card has restricted items because there’s a risk of it being abused. But tampons or pads are not one of them. And if a case manager actually told a woman that she can’t purchase them then that person needs a reality check.
    But all your fulla’s Work and Income bashing re-inforces the South African women’s observations – that we have such a ingrained mentality of entitlement, no wonder we have generational beneficiaries.

    1. ClaraBell I almost entirely disagree with you but I wanted to come back to the issue you raise about entitlement. A lot of beneficiary-bashing seems to come down to this idea that people shouldn’t feel “entitled” to money from the government, because it is their own fault. There is a lack of understanding that issues like high unemployment have social rather than solely individual causes. The hardship New Zealand is currently facing reflects global market realities, which are the effect of global capitalism. The direction the current government is taking New Zealand is driving the shift towards significant hardship amongst lower income earners even further. The real question of entitlement needs to be about wealth. How is it that some New Zealanders feel so entitled to their individual wealth creation that they do not support better infrastructure and support mechanisms for New Zealand?

    2. So you use rags then . This is not about “gimme”. Nobody is arguing about cigarettes and alcohol, but necessary sanitary items, not to mention the wider issue of no compliant case managers. TIme for you to trot back to Paula’s tea party.

  2. That is disgusting and so is the way that Paula bennett knows that the computer program for TAS is deducting $24.38 from beneficiaries and that is why the program shows that there is no deficiency when we apply for essential costs. WHY WONT YOU FIX THIS BENNETT?

  3. That it is not a policy decision is no excuse. Case managers should be better trained, both on policy and attitude. I’m gonna go and bleed all over their chairs.

  4. This is so stupid !! It’s just like saying nappies should not be purchased on the card . Geez woman pull your head in , it’s ok to go buy a god damn chocolate bar on the card but not tampons/pads … We are all human beings and woman don’t ask to get there period every month it’s just how we were all created , This is appalling !!!

  5. Well well it was only a matter of time aye Paula…I cannot wait for Karma to bite you on the arse if it hasnt already??? I agree whats Paulas next move??? Hope you get voted out!!!!! Or hope you have your period for 3 weeks of every month and very heavily too!!!!

  6. I have a daughter who is currently having to deal with WINZ. Before this time I naively thought we had a good social system that took care of those in need in a reasonable way at a reasonable level. I know longer believe that. Winz are neither helpful nor consistant. They are demoralising to deal with, confusing and at times down right rude. The Winz workers don’t seem to know the entitlements and there are constant cock ups with benefit payments that add stress and poverty. I’m disguste with Win and the management and attitude of Paula Bennett

  7. Are women supposed to go back to rags, like our grandmothers used during the Depression? Yah not at policy level that women CAN’T have necessary blood-stopping material. But it should have been firmly decided somewhere higher up that hm women need these- better put that on the list. Can’t go treating beneficiaries like human beings, can they?

  8. Wow wouldn’t that be freaky a persons piteous mind puts pressure on WINZ women who might be lining up at their Dr’s now asking them to get a hysterectomy so their mate can be completely stopped, as they can no longer get a “necessity item” for their body because its a luxury item. What a paltry policy lol – Its not the tampon that’s the issue as there is other means, however it will actually be ourselves that will belittle women who get their monthly menstrual flow which will make our women really embarrassed, especially if someone says – “oh she must be on WINZ, I can smell her”.

  9. Paula. you are a man in a woman’s body.
    those that work (barely earn enough to eat, I’m one of those) get punished for earning sweet FA those that don’t work/can’t find work get punished coz these govt is money hunger pack if wolves.
    those that study are punished for trying to make a life for themselves.
    one day some one will hand you a rope and ask you if you will hang yourself or the NZ citizens with it.

    What will be your answer?

  10. Last week I purchased a pack of razors with a supermarket card, are they trying to say its more of a necessity for me to shave my face? quite bizarre indeed…

  11. I had a similar experience but with baby products. I was 8 months pregnant and had just left an abusive relationship. I had moved from my home and had to leave all my belongings behind in order to make a safe escape. I left with nothing. I then applied for a food grant from WINZ and with it decided to put my baby first by purchasing – newborn nappies, diaper rash cream and talcum powder, as well as a box of chocolates and some shampoo. I was told by the supermarket supervising manager I could not purchase ANY of those items as they were not necessities. I was so broken hearted that I left the store with nothing. I then spent the last of my money on a bus to get to my new address which was a family members shared lounge room – not ideal. It really left me feeling hopeless and disheartened by humankind. I hope no-one else ever has to go through what I went through. So I wrote an email to the Chief Executive of Winz at the time and they agreed that it should not have happened and it would not happen to anyone else. This was 5 years ago. I hope they get this sorted….because if what happened to me were to happen to someone else I dread to think of the consequences. It had me feeling incredibly depressed and i’m just lucky my faith got me through.

    1. thanks for sharing Rose. That is horrible, no wonder you felt depressed. Good on you for writing a complaint. Hopefully more people will feel encouraged to speak up about unfair treatment.

    2. I can assure you that when I needed to make the ‘necessities’ purchase 22 years ago, before there were cards that stopped you at the counter, I was able to. The fact that I had to ‘lie’ and say I needed a food voucher because I was too embarrassed to say I needed tampons probably makes a mockery of the so-called ‘freedom to choose’ back then.

  12. Why am I not surprised. The Government over spends in other places and makes cuts to those who are in need. The rich stay rich, the poor get poorer…. NZ will be close to being a 3rd world country in a western world by the time the next elections come around and yet the same pratts in Government will remain…. Those like Paula Bennett. We need to pull finger and get rid of this current Government so people like Rose and Trish’s daughter and everyday people who are struggling dont need to suffer by such unjust means. How about Paula Bennett and her cohorts take a pay cut and put that money towards better use rather than lining their own pockets.

  13. this deeply saddens me to see the humiliation faced by females needing these items, I was told by someone things are getting harder in winz but this is a disgrace. show some humanity both winz workers and sales people.

  14. Yup i’m gonna start bashing the winz case managers i’ve dealt with now, i’m a caregiver for my father who is on an invalids benefit ! And when i have to go into WINZ on his behalf i dread it , Same questions , always “What steps has your father taken to make his financial status any better” When they can obviously see what his money goes on , from the bank statement and budgeting paper ! One lady got a real attitude and starting saying oh well he’s only young not even in his 60s, i said “listen here lady my father was 19 years old when he started work and worked for 35 years, most of his life, if he had his way he’d be still be the job he loved, but due to his illness, he has no balance , lost his heat sense and has had spinal surgery with no improvemnt at all ! So what the hell is your problem ? and what more do you want from him? I feel as though they think that he’s on the benefit just being lazy and yet every year i take in a doctors certificate to show that he still hasn’t improved and will never be able to work again. I am at the moment trying to find a part time job, because it’s too hard to stay home financially , even though i’m caregiving for my dad this is just nuts and work and income can get stuffed !

    1. yea I no where your coming from don’t get me started on winz I never let my girl have much to do with her dad ever because he was in jail more than out anyway my girl turned 14 I let her get to no him I thought she can now make her own mind up anyway he went back to jail for 6 yrs my daughters gutted but oh well she nos now what hes like my girl has become very difficult and gone to live with her sis and her kids so my oldest went to apply for unsupported child benefit for her winz rang me questioned me and said worth applying for I told my daughter they get you to apply then decline you waste of time they think we have nothing better to do ae they also had a meeting with my 2 girls still declined so where does that leave my daughter they want to put her on my oldest girls benefit and shell get 90 a week but why since October last year ive had only 2 or 3 maintenance payments of 70 bux it cost more than that to support a high school kid im on limited income winz are actually forcing me back on bene because I cant support my girl inland rev say well only pay you maintence if we get it but yet they will take it from my bank if my girl stays with her older sister grrrr im over it so over it .mean while dad gets jail doesn’t have to pay mum gets the child and nothing to support her shocking and they wonder why people cant look after there kids .

    2. It is horrible! I know they have some standard things to ask but why bother when it isn’t relevant?
      I am on the benefit due to mental illness at the advice of my GP & mental health team I was referred to in an effort to regain control of my life. I already feel ashamed of being on a benefit and having a few loose screws in my head, I’d love to have a fairly normal life and be working still but I do need to recover first.
      Thanks case managers, I don’t need to be patronized to feel more shame.

  15. I’m a young female in my early twenties who has unfortunately needed to get a food grant twice now.
    I had it explained to me that “personal items” aren’t to be purchased with it, on further enquiry I was told there were “medical contraceptive choices that would be more cost effective” – I have/had no partner and had just been put on multiple medications for bipolar after a suicide attempt had earned me a hospital stay. More medication was far from ideal and in my state this made me feel at fault for being a female.

    1. thanks for your comment Aster, I’m really sorry to hear of your bad experience with WINZ. If you are based in Auckland, it might be helpful to get an advocate from Auckland Action Against Poverty to go along to your next WINZ meeting. I went to their last impact action and it was incredible what a difference it made when caseworkers knew they were being watched by advocates who know the policies and legislation really well. The caseworkers really have no idea about mental health! I can really relate to your experience. WINZ staff and the broader context of punitive welfare changes seem to be contributing to higher levels of stress to a lot of people with different health conditions. They shouldn’t be able to get away with this. Best wishes for things to settle down for you, and for glimpses of hope and calm.

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