20 Minutes With Lisa Maathuis, Dignity NZ


Dignity New Zealand is a company built on a mission to create period equity in New Zealand, ensuring that no one misses out on education, work, sports, cultural activities, or anything else due to a lack of accessibility for period products. 

General manager of Dignity New Zealand, Lisa Maathuis, explained that Dignity offers a Buy One Give One program, where companies buy period products for the workplace. Dignity gifts the equivalent amount to people without access. 

"Since we began in 2016, we have supported over 230 organisations, gifting free period products to people without access," said Maathuis. 

Founded in 2016 by Jacinta Gulasekharam and Miranda Hitchings, the original idea of Dignity was to make the management of periods easier by setting up a business that delivered period products to people every month to eliminate New Zealanders from getting caught short.  

"However, the more people they spoke to, the more they realised that getting caught short wasn't the biggest barrier concerning periods in Aotearoa."

The most significant barrier the pair noticed was people without access and the unfairness this created. Gulasekharam and Hitchings found that if people didn't have access, they would have to stay home and miss out on work, education, and anything else. 

Dignity New Zealand is proud to be a changemaker for menstrual equity in New Zealand and has thus far partnered with 110 companies to help create more equitable workplaces. Dignity also conducts employee surveys with its corporate partners and runs term impact reports with schools to measure the effect. 

These surveys show the positive impact of the initiative, with one ANZ site having 91 percent of respondents reporting back that the access to pads and tampons was valuable, 89 percent felt more personally supported, with a further 93 percent felt having Dignity was important to them. 

Maathuis said that regarding Dignity's social impact, the organisation had now gifted over 780,000 individual period products to people nationwide, with an estimated impact on 315,000 people through organisations like community and youth groups, women's refuge centres, food banks, and more.  

Maathuis added that Dignity takes pride in being a local New Zealand-owned and operated company and that companies were truly supporting their communities by choosing Dignity.

"We would love to see other FMCG brands consider how they can support a social issue connected to their work and strive to prioritise reinvesting profits for the greater good in a meaningful way."

Dignity NZ

Lisa Maathuis

Maathuis said that there had been a shift in workplaces where more companies were actively considering how to better create more inclusive environments for employees, with free period products being a simple and powerful step to making employees feel cared for and respected, especially during times when people may unexpectedly need period products. 

Adding that this was a positive trend, Maathuis said it allowed the organisation to engage in more conversations with businesses about possibly implementing Dignity in their workplaces. 

Pads and tampons are the most popularly used menstrual products used. However, there has been an increase in menstrual cups and reusable underwear, a shift Maathuis primarily attributed to the environmentally conscious mindset of Gen Z, who are often committed to sustainable living. 

She continued that reusable products have a lower environmental impact than disposable pads and tampons and could be more cost-effective in the long run. However, there remains to be a significant gap in education regarding the use of reusable products. 

People have concerns about comfort, trust in their effectiveness, and the cleaning process. As education and awareness around reusable products grow, we anticipate they will gain a larger market share.

"People have concerns about comfort, trust in their effectiveness, and the cleaning process. As education and awareness around reusable products grow, we anticipate they will gain a larger market share."

As an EKOS-certified business, sustainability encompasses its products and internal business operations. Its range of pads, tampons, and menstrual cups, provided by Organic Initiative, and its reusable underwear, provided by AWWA, are created with organic cotton to ensure eco-friendliness whilst being plastic-free and ethically sourced. 

Day-to-day Dignity prioritises sustainability by reusing product boxes for shipping our orders. Additionally, its office and warehouse are within a sustainability-focused co-working space established by Kaicycle. This shared space brings together businesses that align with Dignity's values and share the organisation's commitment to making a meaningful and lasting impact on the world.

When discussing the impact of the pandemic, Maathuis said that the main observation was the number of those experiencing period poverty nationwide, which led to Dignity receiving a higher number of organisations reaching out to become Give Partners and receive gifted period products. 

The rising cost of living post-pandemic has also significantly contributed to the demand for free-period products to support those without access, which has continued to increase. 

Recent years have seen a significant shift in the attitudes towards menstruation, particularly in schools and some workplaces, where the provisions of free period products have become more normalised. A significant step in 2021 contributed to this shift when the Ministry of Education launched its Ikura program, providing free period products in schools.

Dignity has witnessed more workplaces introducing free period products for their teams, treating them as essential office supplies alongside items like toilet paper, tea, and coffee. This approach makes perfect sense since menstruation affects half of the population for a significant portion of their lives, including during working hours. However, Maathuis said there was still a long way to go despite these positive developments. 

"Stigma, silence, and misinformation surrounding menstruation remain significant issues. There is a lack of openness and willingness to discuss menstruation, and many people are still unaware of the extent of Period Poverty in our communities and the resulting injustice it creates."

Period poverty remains the biggest challenge in New Zealand, with The Period Place estimating it affects approximately 70,000 individuals each year. Maathuis stated that this causes instances wherein individuals are forced to stay home for the duration of their period (anywhere between two to seven days) every month, missing work, education, or participation in sports simply due to a lack of access to period products. 

"This is the harsh reality faced by many individuals within our communities, and it emphasises the pressing need to address this issue and strive for period equity."